Kevin Charles

Organ Donor Death Raises Questions About Living Donors

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Keith Brofsky/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) — Two years after 57-year-old Paul Hawks died during a seemingly routine organ donation operation, his widow is drawing attention to the possible dangers of living organ donation as she plans to sue the clinic where he was treated.

Lorraine Hawks was married to her husband for nearly 36 years before he died while donating a portion of his liver to his brother-in-law in 2010 at the Lahey Clinic in Massachusetts. Hawks is planning to file a lawsuit against the clinic, which is affiliated with Tufts University, sometime in the next month.

“A donor, who is giving his liver to [his] brother-in-law, he dies. A donor [who] should not, did,” Hawks’ lawyer David Meyer told ABC News. “The dangers associated with being a good Samaritan, I guess.”

According to a CNN report, Hawks became concerned about her husband’s treatment after receiving a Department of Public Health report that raised numerous red flags. Among Hawks’ concerns was the fact that her husband’s pre-operation EKG was abnormal, a high-speed blood pump in a nearby room was not used when he was bleeding out and the surgical team never activated a set of procedures called the “Massive Blood Transfusion Protocol.”

In addition, a later report from the federal Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services found that the clinic had not given donors updated information about past surgical outcomes and Paul Hawks’ donor advocate had attended meetings about the recipient, which goes against federal policy.

Lorraine Hawks’ lawyer, David Meyer, characterized Paul Hawks as an “improper candidate” for organ donation.

“There were a number of accidents that caused him to bleed to death,” Meyer told ABC News.

The Lahey Clinic would not comment on the case due to the potential litigation.

While using live donors in addition to cadaver donors for liver transplants has become more common over the last fifteen years, Paul Hawks’ death has raised questions about what dangers donors face.

John Renz, director of liver transplantation at University of Chicago, says that in spite of the rise of living donor transplants, surgeons can never become complacent.

“I wouldn’t call it routine,” Renz told ABC News of the surgery. “It’s always a special day when there is a living donor.”

According to Renz, the chance of a death or dangerous incident among living donors is low at about one half of one percent, but it remains a real risk with approximately one incident in every 200 cases.

Renz says donors should ask plenty of questions about the procedure during the pre-operation examination to safeguard their health.

Renz says that two of the most common reasons seemingly healthy people were disqualified from being donors were cigarette use and obesity. Renz said the incidence of blood clotting was often higher during a liver transplant and cigarettes in particular could exacerbate that.

However, Renz says patients should also question doctors thoroughly. “As much as the donor gets evaluated, the donor should evaluate the center,” said Renz.

Renz says potential donors should ask their doctor the number of similar surgeries that both the hospital and surgeon have performed previously and the surgeon’s planned approach to the procedure.

According to CNN, a laparoscopic procedure was used on Paul Hawks, which Renz described as a newer technique and somewhat unusual for a liver transplant.

As she prepares to bring a suit against the Lahey Clinic, Lorraine is still mourning her husband nearly two years after his death. On Valentine’s day, Hawks wrote in an online guest book for her husband’s obituary about how he never forgot to bring her candy and flowers.

“My valentine, that twinkle in your eye … I miss you so much. Love, Lorraine,” wrote Hawks.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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