Organ Transplants Gone Horribly Awry

By Melissa Lafsky | April 8, 2008 4:55 pm

istock_000004949780small.jpgTransplanting organs is an inherently risky business, as the powerful immune-suppressing drugs that allow recipients’ bodies to accept new organs can readily cause infection, cancer, and other health problems. But if the organ itself is diseased, the results can be devastating. The AP reports that 15-year-old Alex Koehne, whose parents agreed to donate his organs once they learned he was close to dying of bacterial meningitis, in fact died of a rare form of lymphoma that wasn’t found until his autopsy. As a result, the patients who received his liver, pancreas, and kidneys also developed the same cancer.

Two of them died, while the kidney recipients are currently undergoing treatment for the disease.

Meanwhile, the family of Tony Grier—a transplant recipient who died after receiving a cancerous lung—suing the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania and the doctors who performed the transplant. His family claims that hospital officials told Grier he was getting the healthy lungs of an 18-year-old (a claim that the hospital denies) while in fact, the lungs came from a 31-year-old woman who smoked heavily and may have had a history of illegal drug use.

While cancerous organs are a worst case scenario, other organ transplants have been linked to disease spreading as well. In 2005, three people were infected with West Nile Virus from their common organ donor, and organ recipients have also contracted rabies, hepatitis C, and even HIV due to infected organs.

The AP reports that the two hospitals in which Koehne’s organs were harvested and transplanted—the NYU Medical Center at Stony Brook and the University of Minnesota—have already changed their procedures and now test organs for bacterial meningitis. Still, it’s worth asking: how are these organs making it from one operating table to the next without being more carefully screened for disease? Look for an explainer article from Discover on this topic, coming soon.

MORE ABOUT: cancer, health policy
  • leslie tasca

    My self and 4 other families experienced a nightmare at Stony Brook University Hospital in Long Island NY. This happened between December of 2000 and August 2006. Our babies were solicited for open heart surgery and became victims of the failed pediatric cardiology program. My daughter is alive today because my husband and i demanded they transfer our daughter out of there immediatly for life saving surgery. Three other families did the same thing. My daughter’s life saving surgery was done at Columbia Presbyterian in NY, 24 hours after her arrival. Our babies were solicited for surgery under false pretenses, were misdiagnosed, malnurished to the point of emaciation, and left in severe congestive heart failure, with enlarged hearts, all while they waited for the part time pediatric surgeon to become available. We were all decieved by the doctor and staff about our babies conditions. We all have not had our cases acknowledged by the NYS Dept. of Health. I know have in my possession a DVD that was made by the Director of Pediatric Cardiology at Columbia, Dr. Welton Gersony just after my daughter’s life saving surgery. In the DVD, Dr. Gersony is criticing my daughters care and outlines the critical departures in my daughter’s care from the basic standards of medical care in pediatric cardiology. It was used as a teaching tool for 7 years for 4 year medical students on how not to practice pediatric cardiology. This DVD is explosive to our case. The DVD is unimpeachable and speaks volumes to the incompetence and lack of proper care that was given to our babies at Stony Brook. Please help me and the 3 other families bring attention to our case so the DOH will follow its own order in the violations handed down by them and finally acknowledge the harm and severe risk the program put our children in then and in the future. Our story is mentioned briefly by a newsday reporter named Ridgley Ochs who did a story on Alex Koehne the 15 year old organ doner. Last year Ridley did a story on 3 of us on October 1, 2007. Since then another family has come forward and we think there may be more. If you would like further information on our stories and to view the DVD please contact me at

  • alexandra samootin

    With reference to organ donation. My 20 year old son, Andrew David Shea, was set up to have a cycling accident in Brisbane, Queensland, Australia. I was told Andrew was killed instantly. Instead Andrew was taken away from the accident site alive and used as an illegal organ donor. My son died a horrible death. I am fighting for justice for Andrew. I had the story on the web about my son. My web site that was published in the US has been taken off the internet – i.e. The story has to be told. From his sad mother, Alexandra Samootin.

  • leslie tasca

    A follow up to my previous blog. I want to say that my response to the article on this website may not have been the proper one. I certainly did not want my opinions of my experience at Stony Brook and my story to take away from the families in this story. I actually thought I would be leaving a message for a reporter not a blog. I am sorry if it seems out of place here it was not my intention. What happened to this young boy, his family and the donor recipients is very sad and my heart has gone out to them since I began following the story.

  • Pingback: היתוך קר למפגרים » ארכיון הבלוג » מזל טוב! קיבלת כליה חדשה! והסרטן בחינם!()

  • dulskresto

    I am very impressed with your performance i wish i were a doctor. May you please give me the opportunity to work with you. i have an idea about aids cooler.something that is morethan antiretroviral. thanks please reply.


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