Woman dying from Cystic Fibrosis gets New Life-Saving Lungs from Heavy Smoker and then dies from Lung Cancer

Posted by PITHOCRATES - December 22nd, 2012

Week in Review

There are often very restricting rules to receive a donor organ.  If you’re on the list for a liver you’ll probably get denied that liver if you had one drink in the past month or so.  They do this because a donated organ is a gift.  There are more people waiting for this gift than there are available organs.  So to make sure the organ goes to the most deserving patient they have some strict rules.  Apparently there are no such rules for donors (see Cystic fibrosis woman died with smoker’s donor lungs posted 12/18/2012 on BBC News Essex).

A 27-year-old woman with cystic fibrosis died of cancer after she was given the donor lungs of a smoker.

Jennifer Wederell, of Hawkwell, Essex, died at home in August – 16 months after the transplant at Harefield Hospital in London…

She had been on the waiting list for a lung transplant for 18 months when in April 2011, she was told there had been a match…

She married her fiance David Wederell in September last year, but by February 2012 a malignant mass was found in her lungs.

“The shock immediately turned to anger in so far as all the risks were explained in the hour before her transplant and not once was the fact smoker’s lungs would be used mentioned,” said Mr Grannell.

“Regrettably, the number of lungs available for transplantation would fall by 40% if there was a policy of refusing those which have come from a smoker; waiting lists would increase and many more patients would die without a transplant…”

“Recipients of transplants are immunosuppressed, to stop the body rejecting the organ – this may have encouraged the cancer to grow. But is no one really knows- these are just theories.”

New warnings on cigarette packages in the U.S. include a scary picture of a diseased lung.  To scare you into quitting smoking.  Because while you can improve your health by quitting some damage is irreversible.  Smoking is that bad.  Smokers have an elevated risk of heart disease.  And lung cancer.  Yet they will give a woman with a suppressed immune system a set of lungs from a heavy smoker.  They were clinically healthy.  But as it turns out they had cancer.  Which probably should not surprise anyone as they came from a heavy smoker.

She was not informed that the donor was a heavy smoker.  Had they told her imagine that horrible decision.  Take a chance with cancer.  Or refuse them and take a chance of dying before the next set of lungs become available.

Was this a failure of national health care?  Cold impersonal staff that didn’t bother to inform the patient about the risk of getting a diseased lung?  Did the NHS just make this decision for her?  Because consulting her would just waste time?  They had already wasted an hour explaining all the risks to her an hour before the surgery.  How much more time would they waste if they had to wait for her to make up her mind about taking a chance with lung cancer?

Time.  It’s something they don’t have a lot of in the NHS.  They’re struggling to make their limited resources cover ever more patients as baby boomers fill their hospitals.  All while having to deal with budget cuts due to deficits.  So they are dealing with longer wait times, rationing of services and service denials.  Things are so difficult that some hospitals have put some elderly patients on the Liverpool Care Pathway for the Dying Patient without consulting their family.  Suspending food and liquids so they die.  Ostensibly to free up a bed and end a needless drain of hospital resources on someone who is just taking their sweet time to die.  It’s cold and callous but this is national health care.  And why they may not waste time waiting for patients to decide if they want to reject a potentially diseased lung.

A donated organ is a gift.  But a potentially cancerous organ?  Given to someone with a suppressed immune system?  Perhaps that’s more the product of a cold and calloused bureaucracy than a gift.  Something to look forward to under Obamacare.  Unless Obamacare just prescribes a pill to manage pain.  Sort of their own version of the Liverpool Care Pathway for the Dying Patient.  But with less to do with a patient’s end-of-life dignity and more to do with economic efficiency.

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