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Massachusetts surgeon, clinic blamed for organ donor's death

Massachusetts doctors are expected to apply the same quality of health care to all patients. Care must be consistent, whether a Middlesex county patient's surgery is required or elective.

An organ donor's widow has filed a surgeon malpractice lawsuit against a Burlington clinic. The plaintiff's husband died in May 2010 during liver donor surgery meant to help save the life of the patient's cancer-stricken brother-in-law.

The donor patient passed several preliminary tests in the six months prior to the fatal surgery. Surgeons felt he was a qualified match, despite concerns over the donor's age, an irregular electrocardiogram and the presence of extra blood vessels in the man's liver.

The clinic told the couple only two deaths were recorded among U.S. liver donors in 4,000 operations. The plaintiff believes the donor's risk factors were minimized, while the donation's true benefit to the recipient was magnified.

The surgery was nearing completion, when more than one tear in a major vein occurred. The donor's bleeding continued despite the team's best efforts, although the recipient's liver portion was preserved. The donor died - something that never occurred during the clinic's 200 previous liver transplants.

The donor's widow alleged Lahey Clinic neglected to provide her husband with enough risk data to make an informed choice. She felt the clinic may have placed the recipient's needs above her husband's health.

The widow was upset when a state and federal report of the surgical death cleared the clinic of wrongdoing. She questioned why her husband's donor advocate was a Lahey surgeon and not an independent advocate, as required by Medicare.

The donor also apparently was unaware his brother-in-law's cancer was significantly advanced. The brother-in-law died a year after the donor's sacrifice.

A careless surgeon's mistakes can occur even before a patient reaches an operating room. Survivors of patients harmed by medical professional negligence may file a civil claim for personal losses.

Source: The Boston Globe, "Donor’s death shatters family, stuns surgeons" Liz Kowalczyk, Feb. 02, 2014

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