Transplant teen's family criticized for not donating organs

Wednesday, February 26, 2003

RALEIGH, N.C. -- As Jesica Santillan's family grieves her death after a botched heart-lung transplant, they are being criticized for refusing to make the girl an organ donor herself.

"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.

Jesica, whose family moved to the United States from Mexico to receive care for a heart deformity, spent three years on a waiting list before receiving a heart-lung transplant at Duke University Medical Center on 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 last Thursday. Irreversible brain damage soon followed. After more than a day without brain activity, she was declared dead Saturday.

Mahoney said Jesica's mother asked doctors about donating the 17-year-old girl's new heart and lungs as well as other organs. She was told the heart and lungs could not be reused and the kidneys and liver were ruined from being on life support too long.

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

"The family had been put through the worst ordeal a family could face," Mahoney said. "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."

One medical ethicist said the criticism is unfair.

"My bottom line is -- let the family grieve now," said Thomas Murray, president of The Hastings Center, a medical ethics think tank in Garrison, N.Y.

Laura Wright, who received a transplant of a kidney and a pancreas six years ago and heads a Charlotte transplant support group, said she doubted that any of Jesica's organs could have been reused.

"You've got tubes and wires everywhere," she said, "and the amount of drugs they pump through you is astronomical."

Results of the autopsy performed Monday won't be released for six to eight weeks, said chief medical examiner Dr. John Butts.

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

On the Net:

Jesica's Hope Chest: http://www.4jhc.org

Duke University Medical Center: http://www.mc.duke.edu

United Network for Organ Sharing: http://www.unos.org

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