Donor heart was wrong blood type

Hospitals chief apologises after surgeons realised only halfway through operation organ wasn't compatible with patient's blood type

PUBLISHED : Wednesday, 22 May, 2013, 8:21pm
UPDATED : Thursday, 23 May, 2013, 4:07am

A hospitals chief apologised yesterday for a medical blunder in which a woman transplant patient was left fighting for her life after being given a heart that did not match her blood type.

The rare mistake was realised halfway through the emergency operation when a nurse, who was not in the operating theatre, realised that the donor's AB blood type was not compatible with the recipient's type A, meaning it could result in a fatal rejection.

The blunder at Queen Mary Hospital on Tuesday was "a result of human errors", Hong Kong West cluster chief executive Dr Luk Che-chung said, as he apologised to the patient and the families involved. "We will set up an independent committee to find those who are responsible."

The 58-year-old patient was in stable condition under intensive care last night but might develop a serious rejection at a later stage and require another transplant, Luk said.

At least two senior doctors failed to identify the mismatch of the blood type before the surgery. They said they were confused by the fact that a donor with blood type A would be compatible with a recipient with blood type AB - but not vice versa.

An urgent call to the operating theatre after the mistake was noticed came too late.

Luk said no medical staff would be suspended at this stage and the hospital would continue its transplant service while awaiting a report, due in two months.

Dr Katherine Fan Yue-yan, head of cardiac services at Grantham Hospital where the woman was being treated for end-stage heart failure, said that when a heart became available, "we were very eager to use it".

The surgeon in charge of the transplant operation at Queen Mary Hospital, Dr Timmy Au Wing-kuk, said he had read aloud the blood types of the donor and the recipient to double check. "But for some unknown reason … I did not realise that the blood type would be a mismatch."

When the call about the mistake came, "the patient's heart had already been taken out, and I was in the process of fixing in the new heart".

The patient's family had been informed throughout and was very worried, he said.

Fan said the patient might not have lived for more than a week without a transplant.

Professor Lo Chung Mau, a surgeon at the University of Hong Kong, said it was an extremely rare mistake.

"The surgeon in charge should be responsible, as he had the duty to check all organs before performing the surgery."