A 64-year-old New York man who had suffered from chronic kidney failure was a recipient of a donor kidney in 2007. The kidney donor’s diagnosis at time of transplant was meningitis. It was later learned that the donor died from cancer. The recipient patient was notified of the cancer diagnosis and after a biopsy on the transplanted kidney, the patient underwent radical nephrectomy.
That kidney was found to be cancerous, and the patient underwent a precautionary course of chemotherapy. He did not develop cancer and eventually received another kidney.
The man sued the urologist who implanted the cancerous kidney, several other physicians who treated the donor, and the facility where the donor had received treatment. The suit alleged that the urologist failed to properly assess the viability of the donated kidney and that the remaining physicians and hospital failed to diagnose the donor’s maladies, which would have prevented use of the man’s kidney for transplant. He claimed the course of chemotherapy greatly delayed his receiving another kidney.
The man died after filing the lawsuit, and the suit was continued by his estate. It proceeded against the urologist only and alleged the urologist should not have permitted the patient to receive the kidney from a donor with a diagnosis of bacterial or viral meningitis. While the urologist was unaware the donor had cancer, the lawsuit claimed that he failed to recognize that the diagnosis of meningitis increased the risk of complications to the recipient patient and contraindicated use of that kidney.
The urologist countered that the transplant was appropriate, that there was significant doubt about the diagnosis of meningitis, and the recipient patient was extremely ill and needed urgent kidney transplant. The jury found in favor of the urologist after deliberations of 75 minutes at the conclusion of a 2-week trial.
LEGAL PERSPECTIVE: The donor in this case was admitted to the hospital with symptoms of meningitis and was treated for this. His last two spinal taps revealed no bacteria, and no viral pathogens were found. He subsequently went into a coma and became an organ donor with a final diagnosis of viral meningitis or encephalitis. An autopsy of the donor’s brain revealed he died of a rare form of T-cell lymphoma and thus the recommendation to the recipient to have the transplanted kidney removed. The donor’s physicians and hospital were unaware of the presence of cancer at the time of transplant and they were dismissed from the case prior to trial.