Organ donor found to have had cancer

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 28 November, 2007, 12:00am
UPDATED : Wednesday, 28 November, 2007, 12:00am

Four patients monitored after transplant blunder

Four transplant patients are being monitored after they received organs donated from a man later found to have cancer.

The 46-year-old donor was admitted to Queen Elizabeth Hospital last month after a serious fall. A hospital spokesman said the doctors treating him found a 1.4cm-diameter nodule on his lung that was considered benign. They said his liver and both kidneys would be fit to use.

He died on October 26, several days after being admitted, and the transplants were performed the next day. His liver was used for grafts on a seven-month-old boy and a 59-year-old woman at Queen Mary Hospital, while his kidneys were transplanted to two women, aged 50 and 30, at Queen Elizabeth and United Christian Hospitals. Surgery went smoothly and the patients were stable.

The blunder came to light when the results of a tissue test carried out during the postmortem examination showed signs of cancer. The spokesman said a risk assessment was immediately conducted and the hospitals were informed.

All four patients remained stable and were being closely monitored.

The president of the Medical Association, Choi Kin, a kidney specialist, said both the incident and the cancer involved were rare. The chances of any of the patients developing cancer were slim.

Dr Choi said the authority should examine the loopholes that allowed the incident to occur and fix them. But when a donor died there were only a few hours for examinations to be conducted and organs removed and stored, so errors were possible.

The lawmaker for the medical sector, Kwok Ka-ki, said the root of the problem lay in the huge shortage of donated organs. He said the surgeons may have been impatient and not bothered running tests to ensure the donor was cancer-free.

Hospital Authority figures show that 66 patients had kidney transplants last year. Fifty-three of them were from donors who had died. More than 1,400 patients are on the waiting list. On average, it takes 51/2 years for a kidney patient to get a transplant, with the longest waiting time being 23 years.

Dr Kwok said: 'It's hard to get an organ ... they need to seize every minute and second and might therefore take a risk.'

He said the authority should strengthen the alert system before transplants to minimise risks.

Tony Mok Shu-kam, from the Department of Clinical Oncology at Chinese University, said the cancer in this case was a very rare kind, with fewer than 30 cases a year, compared with 4,000 for the most common, lung cancer. He said the immune systems of the organ recipients could tackle foreign cells, including cancer.

Separately, the Hospital Authority revealed there had been three incidents in which gauze was left inside the abdomens of patients after surgery between April and October.