Kidney transplants carried out at the Royal Liverpool University Hospital proved to be a tragic mistake for the two recipients who had hoped for a fresh lease on life.
The kidneys had come from a donor who had had intravascular B-cell lymphoma, a rare type of non-Hodgkin's lymphoma, which again, is a blood cancer that is very difficult to identify. A post mortem examination revealed that the donor had suffered from this cancer, but by then it was too late for the two transplant patients. Ironically both Robert Law, 59, and Gillian Smart, 46 had two live donors in their sisters, but the hospitals' transplant team had obtained their consent to be given what proved to be diseased organs.
In its defense, the NHS Blood and Transplant Service has stated that post-mortems on donors before transplantation were not an option as the time taken would make the organs unfit for transplants. The hospital's chief executive, Tony Bell has stated that 'had there been any suspicion that the donor had cancer the transplant would not have taken place'.
James Neuberger, associate medical director at the NHS Blood and Transplant Service, said the incident happened weeks before new guidelines were given to clinicians on obtaining consent from patients and warning them of risks. He also makes the point that transplantation isn't risk-free as they involve second hand organs.
The transplant patients have decided to seek legal counsel and the matter is under investigation. Meanwhile, the Royal Liverpool and Broadgreen University Hospitals Trust are conducting a joint investigation with NHSBT.
A research study had also been initiated to find out how often infected organs are passed on to patients. Professor Neuberger has said that his primary responsibility would be to get all the data together from transplant centres and then to work out strategies with clinicians to reduce risk.
For the present, Robert Law and Gillian Smart are just trying to get important questions answered, so that such a fatal mistake would never be repeated. And also, as Mr. Law puts it, they realize that there is no point in getting angry; all the energy they have needs to be focused on living each day as it comes.