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Misused surgical device can be lethal for kidney donors

Relatives and other properly matched donors are able to make a sacrifice of one of their own kidneys to save the life of someone suffering from kidney disease. Most of the time the willingness to help the recipient of the kidney overrides any worries about the transplant surgery, or medical malpractice in connection with it.

For most kidney donors, the surgery is fairly low-risk. In 2010, for instance, of the 6,276 people in the U.S. who donated a kidney, all of them were alive and doing well a month after the surgery. That was not the case the next year, however, when a woman decided to donate a kidney to her ailing brother. She was delighted to be able to assist in saving his life.

Tragically, about a half-hour after the surgery, everything started to go wrong for her. Her breathing became labored, her eyes seemed to enlarge, and she fell. She was rushed into emergency surgery, and doctors found a massive pool of blood in her abdomen. Their efforts to save her were of no avail, and she died. She was then 41 and the parent of four children.

The problem was caused by a tiny surgical clip used to close the renal artery, which was cut when the kidney was removed. These clips are not considered safe to use in laparoscopic kidney donation surgery. In this case, it slipped off the stump of the artery, and massive internal bleeding occurred. Records indicate that four prior kidney donors died when doctors improperly used such clips, and that an additional dozen kidney donors suffered serious injuries. Despite some surgeons' efforts to publicize the risk of using the clips on kidney donors, there is still no warning label on the clips, so it may be that more donors will die or suffer serious complications.

Surgical errors can and do happen, and sometimes they are unforeseeable. But when they continue despite a known risk and repeated warnings from those aware of that risk, victims of these errors or their families may have cause to file a medical malpractice lawsuit.

Source: CNN, "Kidney-donor deaths linked to surgical clips raise issues of alerts, warnings," John Bonifield and Elizabeth Cohen, June 21, 2012

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