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Saturday 24th March 2018

Hidden risk of organ transplant

24th November 2009

Gerry Northam explores the hidden risks of organ transplants.


When John Richardson failed to regain consciousness after receiving his new heart, his family’s grief was compounded after discovering the donor had committed suicide, was a smoker, cocaine user and had several tattoos creating a hepatitis risk.

The coroner recorded a verdict of death by medical misadventure while his wife Karen believes her husband would have got better if he had received “a good donor heart.”

She said her 37-year-old husband would not have gone ahead with the operation if he had known the circumstances.

Steven Tsui, transplant director at Papworth Hospital, where the operation was conducted, acknowledged there were concerns but added: “When we look at donors I think we would all like to see young fit donors who are athletes with a very clean living lifestyle. The reality is that people with that sort of lifestyle wouldn’t die very young.”

With a national shortage of donors, surgeons face a dilemma over so-called marginal organs: is it better to give them to a patient or leave them to die on a waiting list?

The quality of organs appears to be declining, reigniting the debate over informed consent and who should have the final say on organs – the professional or the patient.

When patients join the waiting list at the Freeman Hospital, Newcastle they receive a general account of the risks of transplant surgery and the variable quality of donor organs but is given no further information.

However, Professor Nadey Hakim from Europe’s largest kidney treatment centre at Hammersmith Hospital, London, believes patients have a right to know the relevant facts about the organ they could receive.


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