HIV Transplant Attracts Federal Scrutiny, As Attorney Alleges Donor’s High Risk Status Not Revealed to Patient

Federal officials want to know how HIV infected organs ended up transplanted into four Chicago patients, and have joined Illinois officials in their investigation of the HIV transplant.  Meanwhile, an attorney for a woman who received one of the HIV transplants has said that his client is a “mess” and was never told that the kidney she received came from a donor who was considered at high risk for  blood borne <"">diseases.

Four patients who received organ transplants in January at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, Rush University Medical Center and the University Of Chicago Medical Center contracted HIV and Hepatitis C from organs that came from the same donor.  The HIV infected organs where provided by Gift of Hope, which has acknowledged that the donor was considered “high risk”. Gift of Hope determined the donor’s status through a personal and social history. High-risk behaviors include gay men having sex within the past five years, people having sex for money or drugs within the past five years, and intravenous use of recreational drugs within the past five years. The Centers for Disease Control says people in any of these categories should be excluded as organ donors unless the need outweighs the risks.

While the donor, who died of an undisclosed traumatic injury, tested negative for HIV, it is believed that the infection was too recent to be detected by the test used. That test will not detect HIV if the infection occurred less than 22 days prior to the test. Another test that can detect HIV sooner is available, but it does not work as quickly. In most cases, an organ transplant must be performed quickly, making the alternative test impractical.

Late last week, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) that it had joined an investigation into how four transplant recipients contracted HIV and hepatitis C from the single organ donor.  CMS, a federal agency that regulates organ procurement, is checking whether three Chicago hospitals fully informed transplant recipients that the organ donor was at high risk of being infected with the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS.

But an attorney for one of the HIV recipients says his client, an unidentified woman, was never told that the organ donor was classified as high risk.   The attorney also said that had she known, his client would have refused her kidney transplant, as she had once before declined a kidney from another high risk donor.  The woman had been “doing great” on dialysis and had been on the donor waiting list for over six years, the attorney said. The attorney has already gone to court, requesting that officials keep a hospital and an organ procurement center from destroying or altering any records involving the donation.

The woman’s attorney said that his client has begun therapy with HIV medications, but that one of the side effects of those drugs is kidney damage.  Prior to receiving the news that she now was HIV positive, the woman had been doing well and her kidney transplant appeared to be a success.

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