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Transplant recipient's family says it wanted to donate girl's organs

©Associated Press
February 25, 2003

RALEIGH, N.C. -- As Jesica Santillan's family grieves her death after a botched heart-lung transplant and a rare second one, it has become the target of criticism for refusing to make the girl an organ donor.

"We have received several scathing e-mails from people who are concerned that the family refused to donate Jesica's organs," said Mack Mahoney, head of the foundation created to pay for the girl's medical bills.

Like most details surrounding Jesica's death and the bungled transplant that preceded it, survivors and doctors at Duke University Medical Center differed Monday on why a family that benefited from two transplants in as many weeks would refuse to donate organs.

Mahoney said Jesica's mother asked doctors about donating the girl's heart and lungs and other organs, but she was told the heart and lungs could not be reused and the kidneys and liver were ruined from being on life support machines for too long.

Other organs and tissues were so saturated with medications and antirejection drugs that they also would not be reusable, Mahoney said.

"By the time the doctors got around to telling the family that they may be able to use the corneas of Jesica's eyes," Mahoney said, "the family had been put through the worst ordeal a family could face.

"And a very tired and emotionally worn out mother took the advice of her legal counsel to leave Jesica as is, for the pending autopsy."

That autopsy was performed Monday by state medical examiners, but results won't be released until a final report on the case in six to eight weeks, said Dr. John Butts, chief medical examiner.

Duke officials said doctors were told by Carolina Donor Services, the state's organ procurement agency, "that based on their initial assessment several organs may be viable for donation."

Jesica's mother declined to speak with the procurement agency, Duke said in a statement. A spokeswoman said hospital officials could not describe which organs were fit for donation because of patient confidentiality laws.

Carolina Donor Services was unable to discuss any aspect of Jesica's case because of confidentiality laws, spokeswoman Jane Corrado said Monday.

A public memorial service for Jesica was scheduled for Wednesday evening at Louisburg College, where her mother worked as a housekeeper.

Jesica, a 17-year-old Mexican girl who moved to the United States with her family to receive care for a heart deformity, spent three years on a waiting list before receiving a heart-lung transplant at Duke Feb. 7.

But surgeons discovered they had mistakenly transplanted organs of the wrong blood type, causing the body to immediately reject them. She was near death by the time the second set was placed in her body on Thursday. Irreversible brain damage soon followed, and after more than a day without brain activity, she was declared dead Saturday afternoon.

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