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Toledo hospital sued for throwing out donor kidney

Toledo hospital sued for throwing out donor kidney
An Ohio medical center admits that it accidentally discarded a kidney from a 17-year-old teenage donor before it could be transplanted into his sister, who was suffering from end-state renal failure and was already under anesthesia to receive the organ.

Now the University of Toledo Medical Center is asking a state court to dismiss the lawsuit that was filed by the patient’s family. The medical center denies it was negligent, even though it admits that a nurse accidentally threw the organ into the garbage.

“They are admitting they threw the kidney away, but they are not admitting substandard medical care,” lawyer James Arnold, who represents the family, told ABC News. “They must think that it is within standard care to throw a kidney away. It would be more decent to admit substandard care, and the family shouldn’t have to be going through litigation to prove it.”

Last August, Paul Fudacz donated one of his kidneys to his older sister, who was in desperate need of a new organ. After the kidney was removed from the live donor, a nurse threw the organ, which was stored in protective slush, into the garbage. When doctors noticed her mistake, they removed it from the trash and tried to resuscitate the kidney, but it was ultimately deemed unusable.

Sarah A. Fudacz, the 24-year-old sister of the donor, was already under anesthesia, waiting to receive her new organ. But she never received it, and subsequently “suffered through painful dialysis, four painful surgeries… and was forced to live through the uncertainty of whether she would ever find a kidney suitable for transplant before dying,” the Fudacz family wrote in a lawsuit filed against the medical center.

The renal failure patient received a suitable kidney about three months later. Judith K. Moore, the part-time nurse responsible for discarding the kidney, resigned shortly after making her mistake, and the center’s administrator of surgical services was placed on paid administrative leave. Melanie Lemay, a long-time nurse who was covering for Moore on her lunch break and failed to update her on the status of the operation, was fired by the medical center for “procedural infractions.”

“We cannot fathom the disappointment that those impacted have experienced over the course of last week,” Dr. Jeffrey Gold, University of Toledo chancellor and dean of the College of Medicine, said in a statement after the incident. “The university cannot begin to express the sorrow that we feel that this unfortunate incident occurred. We apologize sincerely.”

But on July 29 of this year, the Fudacz family filed a lawsuit against UTMC, alleging medical negligence and loss of consortium. They are asking for damages of $25,000 for each of the eight family members, which comes out to $200,000 total.

“Paul Jr.’s kidney was considered a ‘perfect match’ for Sarah," the lawsuit reads. "Sarah seeks damages she has suffered and will continue to suffer due to the loss of Paul Jr.’s perfect kidney. Paul Jr. seeks damages he has suffered and will continue to suffer for having to undergo a painful and risky surgery, and for having to live the rest of his life with only one kidney, all in vain."

Arnold, the family’s attorney, told ABC that “it’s obvious to everyone but the university” that the medical center was negligent, but by asking the state to dismiss the suit, a legal battle is likely to ensue between the family and the University of Toledo.

In the US, coming across a kidney is no easy task, especially since they are the country's most sought-after organs. In 2010, about 93,000 patients were listed on the United Network for Organ Sharing's kidney transplant waiting list. As of Sept. 2012, that number had risen to more than 115,000. But between January and June of that year, there were only 6,931 kidney donors, making the University of Toledo's mistake a very costly one.