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Do Organ Transplant Errors Happen Often?

When a patient finds out they need an organ transplant, the clock begins ticking. It can take days, weeks, or months to find a matching donor organ. When the patient finally does finally get the call for transplant surgery, they can be so happy that they don’t consider the downsides. 

If a doctor, hospital, or surgeon makes an error in the organ transplantation, it can cause the organ transplant to be rejected, or cause additional injury or harm to the patient. In some cases, an organ transplant error can be fatal. If a loved one died shortly after an organ transplant, you may have questions about what went wrong. 

If a doctor fails to follow the standards of medical care in an organ transplant, the doctor’s negligence could lead to a medical malpractice lawsuit. If you were injured after an organ transplant, or a loved one died after organ transplant surgery, you can get help from an experienced medical malpractice law firm. Contact Gilman & Bedigian today online or by phone at 800-529-6162 for help with your malpractice claim.  

What Is an Organ Transplant?

An organ transplant is a medical procedure to replace one of your organs with a healthy organ from a donor. The organ transplantation process can be very long and complex. Generally, an organ transplant begins with a diagnosis of a damaged or diseased organ. When a patient’s organ is not functioning properly or is in declining function, they can be placed on a donor’s list. 

When an organ becomes available, they are quickly preserved and transported to the transplantation hospital. Time is of the essence when it comes to organ transplants. A kidney transplant may only be viable for about 24 to 36 hours and a heart must be transplanted within about 4 to 5 hours. 

The procedure can take hours and there is a long recovery process. The medical team does close post-surgical monitoring to determine whether the body is accepting the organ. The organ recipient may have to take immunosuppressant drugs for the remainder of their life. If the transplant is successful and the patient has recovered, they may be able to return to normal function, with regular medical updates. 

According to the Health Resources & Services Administration (HRSA), there are more than 105,000 men, women, and children on the national transplant waiting list. Many patients never become eligible for an organ. Approximately 17 people a day die waiting for an organ transplant. In 2021, there were more than 40,000 organ transplants performed in the U.S. 

What Is an Organ Transplant Waiting List?

Organ matching starts with the hospital accepting a person as a candidate and entering the patient’s information into the transplant database. An organ transplant list is not a first-come-first-served process. There are many factors that are taken into account when prioritizing which patients will get the first organs that become available. Factors in the organ transplant list include: 

  • Type of organ 
  • Age of the patient
  • Immune system compatibility
  • Survival benefit
  • Distance from the donor
  • Medical urgency

While waiting to match with a donor, there may be temporary interventions that can keep the patient alive while they wait. For example, a hemodialysis machine can help in place of a healthy kidney to filter the blood and keep the patient alive. However, the dialysis process will not cure the patient’s kidney disease and will only prolong the patient’s life as long as they receive regular kidney dialysis treatment

According to the HRSA, the greatest waiting list for organ transplants is for kidneys, with about 90,000 on the wait list in 2021. There are more than 11,000 people waiting for a liver transplant, and 3,500 patients on the list for a heart transplant. Lung transplants have the fewest on the waitlist, with just over 1,000 people waiting for a healthy lung. 

What Causes Organ Transplant Errors?

Any medical procedure carries some risk. Organ transplants are complex surgeries that can last for hours, with a lot of potential for something to go wrong. Even with highly skilled doctors and medical professionals, a lapse of judgment, rushing through checklists, or failure to double-check information can lead to a serious medical injury. 

There can be several causes of organ transplant errors. From putting in the incorrect information when matching a donor to failing to properly advise patients upon discharge, errors can occur at any point in patient care, putting the patient in harm’s way.  Unfortunately for patients, many of these accidents are preventable. Possible causes of organ transplant errors include: 

  • Blood-type incompatibility
  • Bloodborne disease transmission
  • Organ rejection
  • Surgical errors
  • Anesthesia errors
  • Infection
  • Delays in organ transplant
  • Diseased or damaged organs
  • Post-transplant errors

According to a Senate investigation, patient deaths and wasted donor organs were blamed on transplant system errors. According to a Washington Post article, 70 people died and 249 developed diseases after errors in organ donation screenings. Errors include failure to identify diseases in donor organs, blood-type mix-ups, and delays in blood tests that were not completed before the transplant surgery occurred. 

Organ Rejection

An organ transplant generally requires state-of-the-art immunosuppression drugs. The body naturally rejects foreign objects in the body, including the body parts of other people. Immunosuppression drugs can help the body adapt to the new organ until the organs begin to function with the rest of the body systems. For many patients, an immunosuppressant drug regimen may be necessary for the remainder of their life. 

Organ rejection is a real possibility, even when everything is going right. However, some organs may be rejected because the medical teams on the recipient or donor’s end make a medical error. Getting the wrong information about the donor, blood type, and other medical information could result in matching with the wrong organ donor. Possible causes for system and process errors include incorrect labeling, mistakenly hearing the wrong information, and transcription errors.  

Surgical Transplant Errors

Invasive surgery requires cutting open the body, performing the operation, and closing up the body. Any time the inside of the body is exposed to the outside world, there is a risk of the wrong things coming in. Three serious types of surgical errors include: 

Infection injuries can occur when doctors fail to take proper sanitation protocol, including washing hands, using sterile equipment, and monitoring for signs of infection. An infection in a patient who is taking immunosuppressant drugs can be even more serious because the patient’s immune system is compromised while their body is trying to adapt to a foreign organ. 

A left-behind object is known as a “never event” because it never happens without negligence. Unfortunately, there are many left-behind object injuries because doctors fail to follow proper protocols and staff fail to follow up with safety checks to account for surgical objects. Left-behind objects can include sponges, scalpels, needles, or surgical gloves. A left-behind object can cause a serious infection and injury. 

Another surgical never event involves the wrong patient, wrong procedure, or wrong site injuries. It may seem impossible that a patient could go in for a kidney transplant and have their good kidney taken out and their diseased kidney left in the body. Wrong site or wrong side surgeries involve miscommunication and other failures before the surgical event. 

Diseased or Damaged Organs

When doctors do not properly evaluate the donor, the donor’s medical history, and the donated organ, it can lead to a diseased or damaged organ being transplanted into the recipient. A damaged, diseased, or infected organ can result in harm or injury to the patient and the patient may require another invasive transplant surgery to get a properly working organ. 

Delays in Organ Transplants

A delay in the organ transplant can render the donor’s organ useless. There is a limited time for a viable organ transplant, which may only be a few hours after a donor has died before surgery must begin in the recipient. Delays in transportation, mishandling during transportation, or mishandling before surgery can cause unnecessary delays that reduce the chances of a successful transplant. 

What Organs Are Available for Transplanting?

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), “In the United States, the most commonly transplanted organs are the kidney, liver, heart, lungs, pancreas and intestines.” Some types of organ or tissue transplants are available from living donors. However, many organ transplants are only available after the donor has died. Organs that may be available for transplant to the appropriate patient include: 

  • Heart transplant
  • Lung transplant
  • Kidney transplant
  • Liver transplant
  • Pancreas transplant
  • Intestine transplant
  • Stomach transplant
  • Uterus transplant
  • Testis transplant
  • Penis transplant

Other parts of the body that are not organs can also be transplanted for various medical conditions. Tissue, cells, and fluids that can be transplanted include: 

  • Hand transplant
  • Cornea transplant
  • Skin transplant
  • Bone marrow transplant
  • Blood transfusion
  • Bone transplant
  • Heart valve and blood vessel transplant

There are experimental procedures for other organs and tissues for transplant. It is an evolving area of medicine. The first successful human heart transplant took place in 1967. More recently, the first successful fall face transplant was performed in 2011. Current research in organ transplantation has also looked at 3-D printed tissues and organ transplants from animals.  

Kidney Transplants

According to the National Kidney Foundation, there are more than 100,000 people on the national transplant waiting list waiting for a kidney. The average wait time for an individual’s kidney transplant is about 3 ½ years. About 2/3rds of donated kidneys come from deceased donors and the others come from living donors. 

The kidneys provide necessary body functions to remove waste from the blood and release vitamins, minerals, and hormones to balance the fluid levels in your body. Kidney transplants are available from deceased or living donors. Most people can function normally with only one kidney and some donors may want to donate one of their kidneys to someone in need to restore them to normal renal function. 

Heart Transplants

The heart is responsible for pumping blood throughout the body to provide oxygen to the cells and organs in the body. Heart disease can compromise normal heart function, and can be caused by heart failure, coronary heart disease, cardiomyopathy, and other heart diseases. The time frame for a heart transplant is short, only about 4 to 5 hours. During surgery, the patient is put on a bypass machine, which acts like an artificial heart to oxygenate the blood. 

Lung Transplants

Lung disease can cause disruption in the organ’s ability to clear the body of carbon dioxide and oxygenate the blood for proper organ function. Common lung diseases include cystic fibrosis, emphysema, and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD). The timeline for a lung transplant is very short, as little as 2 to 3 hours from the death of the donor until the lungs are transplanted into the new patient. 

Liver Transplants

The liver has a number of functions, including processing fats, carbohydrates, and proteins. The liver also breaks down toxic substances and metabolizes drugs and alcohol. Common liver diseases that may require a liver transplant include: 

  • Cirrhosis of the liver
  • Metabolic diseases
  • Acute hepatic necrosis
  • Liver tumors
  • Portal hypertension
  • Hepatitis 

How Can I Find Out If I Have a Transplant Malpractice Case?

A patient can wait years for a transplant to have their organs restored to healthy functioning. When a patient finally learns that there is a donor organ available, they can anticipate a new lease on life. However, a mistake by the doctor, surgeon, hospital, or medical team can put that life-saving transplant in jeopardy. 

It may be difficult to know if a complication after an organ transplant was just your body’s rejection of the foreign organ, or if the complication was caused by medical negligence. If you suffered injuries, infection, or other medical injuries after an organ transplant, you can turn to a medical malpractice attorney for help. Your malpractice lawyer can review your medical records, identify any problems with your medical care, and act to help you recover compensation for your losses. 

If you want to know if you have a malpractice claim after a kidney, lung, or heart transplant, talk to an experienced medical malpractice attorney. Contact experienced medical malpractice trial attorneys Gilman & Bedigian online or at 800-529-6162 for a free consultation.

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