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Organ Transplant Mistake Leads To A Tragic Death For A Teenager

Jesica Santillan and her family came to the United States from Mexico in the hopes that she would receive lifesaving medical treatment. Jesica was born with a heart condition known as restrictive cardiomyopathy. She also had secondary nonreactive pulmonary hypertension. This caused poor blood perfusion in her lungs. Her family could not find the medical treatment they needed in Mexico, and went to the US for a heart and lung transplant. However, doctors failed to check for compatibility, and as a result, 17-year-old Jesica died.

Jesica, two sisters, her mother Magdalena, and the mother’s boyfriend came to the U.S. from their small hometown of Tamazula, Mexico. They made it to Durham, North Carolina, seeking treatment at Duke University Hospital. Unless she received a new set of organs, she would not live another 6 months.

The surgeons knew that Jesica needed a heart and lung transplant and began looking for suitable organs for transplant. Carolina Donor Services alerted the Duke team that a heart and lungs became available in Boston, Massachusetts. The donor services group received the donor’s medical and lab information, including her blood type. However, Jesica had type-O-positive blood, and the donor had type-A organs.

The Duke surgical team flew to Boston to extract the organs from a donor. However, they may have acted too soon, as they removed Jesica’s damaged heart and lungs before the replacement organs arrived. According to the New England Organ Bank, the Duke surgical team had the correct information about the blood type mismatch, and it is unclear why they went ahead with the surgery. After the transplant surgery was completed, surgeons were told that the organs were of the wrong blood type.

Jesica’s body rejected the incompatible organs, and her antibodies began attacking the transplanted heart and lungs. She had to be placed on a heart and lung machine to be kept alive.

“We are just really struggling with how a surgical transplant team did not have the ability to find the facts, to talk to the two other surgeons at Duke that these organs were solicited to, and how did they make an outside solicitation for organs that weren’t for this child and not be told,” said Renee McCormick with the charitable organization that was helping to pay the medical costs.

Immediately after the surgery, doctors scrambled to find a new set of organs. Within a couple of weeks, doctors had located another set of organs, these ones of a compatible blood type. However, the second surgery came too late. Her condition continued to deteriorate, and she died within a couple of days.

If you or a loved one was injured by a medical mistake, you may have a claim against the negligent hospital for damages. A medical malpractice claim may allow you to recover monetary damages for your medical bills, pain, and suffering. At Gilman & Bedigian we have been fighting for medical malpractice victims for decades, with a focus on getting you the compensation you deserve, so you can get better and move forward with your life.

About the Author

Briggs Bedigian
Briggs Bedigian

H. Briggs Bedigian (“Briggs”) is a founding partner of Gilman & Bedigian, LLC.  Prior to forming Gilman & Bedigian, LLC, Briggs was a partner at Wais, Vogelstein and Bedigian, LLC, where he was the head of the firm’s litigation practice.  Briggs’ legal practice is focused on representing clients involved in medical malpractice and catastrophic personal injury cases. 


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