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Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp
(833) 997-1774

Organ transplants and donations saved more than 22,000 lives across the United States in 2020. Regrettably, when doctors and medical facilities are less than diligent in their screening procedures, organ recipients are at an extremely elevated risk of serious or even fatal health complications. From the moment a patient learns they need a transplant, time is a critical factor. It can take weeks, months, or even years to locate a matching donor with a viable organ. Despite this agonizing wait, finding a matching donor is only half the battle. If a surgeon or medical facility makes a mistake in the transplantation process, it could cause the donated organ to be rejected, lead to serious, life-threatening infections, or otherwise cause further injury to the patient. In certain cases, errors made during organ transplants can be deadly. 

If your medical condition worsened or a family member died following an organ transplant, you probably have a lot of questions about what happened and what your legal options may be. When a medical professional fails to meet the medical standard of care during an organ transplant, their negligence could be grounds for a medical malpractice lawsuit. To find out if you have a valid medical malpractice or wrongful death claim, contact the experienced Hampton medical malpractice attorneys at Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp today to schedule your free consultation.  

How Do Organ Transplants Work?

Over 40,000 organ transplants were performed nationwide in 2021. Organ transplants are surgical procedures wherein the failing organ of one person is replaced with a matching healthy organ from a donor. The process of transplanting an organ is both long and complicated. In most cases, the first step of the process is being diagnosed with a diseased or damaged organ. Once it has been established that an organ is declining in its ability to function or is not functioning properly, the patient will then be placed on a waiting list for a donor. 

Once a viable organ becomes available, it will be preserved and quickly transported to the hospital. Time is a critical element in organ transplants. A heart has to be transplanted in 4 to 5 hours and a kidney is only viable for around 24 to 36 hours after it is harvested. 

Regardless of the organ, transplant procedures take hours and involve an extended recovery process, including post-surgical monitoring by the medical team to ensure that the recipient’s body does not reject the organ. Most transplant patients will need to take immunosuppressant medications for the rest of their life. Should the transplant be successful, the patient will gradually be able to resume their normal daily functions, which will include routine check-ups. 

The Health Resources & Services Administration website shows that there are currently 103,223 adults and children on the national waiting list. Sadly, about 17 people die every day without ever finding a potential donor.  

How Often Are Transplant Errors Caused by Medical Malpractice?

During a recent eight-year period, the Senate Finance Committee studied 1,118 complaints that were filed with the United Network for Organ Sharing, a not-for-profit organization that oversees organ procurement and transplants. The committee calculated that 249 transplant patients developed severe medical complications and another 70 died due to errors made during the screening or transplantation process. 

Although this number seems small, especially when compared to the several thousand transplants conducted annually, cases of transplant malpractice are particularly noteworthy because, in addition to being preventable, they almost always lead to debilitating health issues or death.  

How High is the Risk of Infection From an Organ Transplant?

The transplantation of a vital organ is a complicated medical procedure that saves the lives of countless people every year. Unfortunately, cases of medical negligence relating to organ transplants have underscored the need for enhanced regulations and safety protocols. Medical negligence can take place at any phase of the process, from procurement to post-surgical care. One major point of contention is screening donors for infectious diseases. The danger here not only lies in receiving an infected organ; it also lies in the host body’s extremely limited ability to repair itself later on. Almost all recipients have to take anti-rejection drugs to keep their bodies from identifying the donated organ as a foreign invader or parasite. They do this by suppressing the immune system. If the donated organ should be infected, the patient’s ability to fight the infection is severely compromised, as is the ability of a doctor to treat it if the necessary medication could cause further damage to the donated organ.  

Failure to properly screen donors can be attributed to multiple factors, such as the delays inherent in organ transplantation and the logistical difficulties involved in performing tests in a timely manner. Once a donor dies, their organs have very limited viability, but this does nothing to change the fact that balancing comprehensive screening with the urgency of the procedure is vital to patient safety.  

What Types of Infections Are Transplant Recipients Most Likely to Develop? 

Even a common infection can pose a major risk to someone who has just undergone an organ transplant, but some of the more serious infection risks are: 

  • Meningitis 
  • Encephalitis 
  • Hepatitis A, B, and C
  • JC virus  
  • Fungal infections, such as cryptococcal 
  • West Nile virus
  • Cytomegalovirus
  • Creutzfeldt-Jakob disease 
  • Epstein-Barr virus 
  • Herpes
  • Human T-lymphotropic virus I/II
  • Human immunodeficiency virus 
  • Toxoplasmosis
  • Polyomavirus Salmonella
  • Severe acute respiratory syndrome 
  • Tuberculosis 
  • Rabies
  • Syphilis

Post-Op Negligence in Organ Recipients

Medical negligence can also take place during an organ recipient’s post-surgical care. Misdiagnosis, insufficient monitoring, and delayed treatment of complications can all result in severe injury or death. Adequate aftercare, careful monitoring, and timely intervention are all critical to the overall success of a transplant. 

In order to increase patient safety as well as prevent medical malpractice and negligence in organ transplants, the implementation of vigorous screening protocols, comprehensive post-operative care, and fostering a culture of constant improvement and accountability within healthcare facilities and transplant networks is paramount. Rigid observance of guidelines, routine audits, and continuing training and education for medical professionals involved in organ transplants are vital elements of an effective and safe transplantation process.

Do I Have a Transplant Malpractice Case?

Most transplant patients wait for years to have a vital organ restored and functioning properly and begin looking forward to their new life as soon as a donor becomes available. Unfortunately, negligence on the part of the surgeon, doctor, transplant team, or hospital could endanger a patient’s life-saving transplant. 

Following an organ transplant, it can be challenging to establish if a complication was due to your body rejecting an unfamiliar organ, or if it was the result of medical negligence. If you acquired an infection, additional injuries, or other medical complications after an organ transplant, you should consult an experienced lawyer. The Hampton medical malpractice attorneys at Shapiro, Washburn & Sharp can examine your medical records, pinpoint any issues with the care you received, and help you recover full and fair financial compensation for your damages. We have been achieving positive results in major medical malpractice claims since 1985, such as the $1.25 million settlement we obtained for a client who was admitted to the hospital for lower back surgery and ended up having both legs amputated. 

You can schedule a free consultation with a member of our legal team by calling (833) 997-1774 or filling out our simple contact form. We serve clients across Hampton, Virginia Beach, Portsmouth, and Norfolk.


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