English Woman Develops Lung Cancer After Hospital Uses Smoker’s Lung In Transplant

article-2249189-168BD83E000005DC-989_306x538 We have previously seen tragic cases of cancerous organs being used for transplants. The latest transplant victim is Jennifer Wederell, 27, of Essex England, a woman
born with cystic fibrosis. She was given a lung transplant, but it appears the donor was a smoker. Wederell then died from lung cancer on August 24 — 16 months after received the diseased lung.

Wederell was never told that the donor was a smoker. She had been waiting for 18 months when she was told that the hospital was a match. She was never given a choice to wait longer for non-snoker donor. She was diagnosed within a year with lung cancer. These transplants tend to come with long waivers saying that there is no guarantee of the condition of the organ or prior habits of donors. However, this would seem gross negligence by the hospital and in the very least a failure to obtain informed consent.

England however is very different from the U.S. in the torts area. On informed consent, the English courts have proven quite hostile to U.S. rules of liability. This is a case where some liability could be an effective deterrent and prompt more disclosure by hospitals.

Do you think that there should be liability in such cases?

Source: Telegraph

25 thoughts on “English Woman Develops Lung Cancer After Hospital Uses Smoker’s Lung In Transplant

  1. This is an amazing case. This poor woman received damaged lungs from a smoker! I cannot imagine a more disgusting case of negligence on the part of a hospital, but to accept lungs from a smoker. I wonder what the donor died from???

  2. I vaguely remember reading about a transplant case in the 1990s or 1980s, though I can’t find a link to cite it. A patient was desperately in need of a heart transplant. It was only when the patient was already in surgery that doctors learnt that the donor had HIV/AIDS. Either they put in the heart or the patient died. That’s not much of a choice.

    There are many cases of “transplant tourism” (which is a disgusting trade that warrants its own discussion) where the receiving patient wasn’t told the full story by the “doctors” or was flat out lied to. There are many instances of “donors” (in China, that means murdered prisoners) who had diseases and the recipient got sick or died from the new organ.



  3. As a heart transplant recipient I am uniquely qualified to comment. The timeframe for organ transplants is generally a very small window. Generally a matter of hours since the viability of organs removed from a body varies from 4 to 8 hours depending on the organ. The team retrieving the organ many times doesn’t have the full information of the donor’s history. Often on the recipient’s end they don’t have the luxury of waiting for another due to their own severity of illness and state of mind.

    This is a much more complex issue than most people understand. My Internet service is out right now and writing from my phone is hard. I’ll write more when service returns.

  4. “Do you think that there should be liability in such cases?”


    Make it a car with a bum transmission and a seller who knew about it, coupled with a buyer who didn’t and you’ll have the answer.

  5. You know if we would stop hobbling stemcell research we would’ve eventually have been able to just grow her some new lungs.

  6. I worked as a transplant RN and the only liability I could see is in lack of pre-transplant testing. And it would have to be in a breach of current testing standards. Every one of us has Cancer…everyone. The body when it is working properly removes these cells. To simplify, when a transplant organ becomes available, the recipient undergoes chemotherapy to suppress the part of the body that keeps Cancer in check. If she had (and as a recipient with diseased lungs it is quite possible….) a non-detectable Cancer load of her own prior to receiving the necessary transplant drugs, it could manifest quite speedily after surgery. Also, if the transplanted organ had a condition that did not show up in testing, it would also manifest quite rapidly after surgery.
    It would be helpful to knw her position on the transplant list and her condition prior to surgery. There is a dearth of transplantable organs and people who undergo this procedure (especially lungs) are at the negative end of the choice spectrum. It’s not like buying a car and the preparation for the very lengthy procedure and recovery leads me to think that this sad but not unheard of sequelae was discussed when the possibility of a Hail Mary solution was contemplated….

  7. I am sorry Woosty but this is an egregious case. Your comment about all of us having cancer may be true at the cellar level but these lungs were already exposed to several triggers that would cause lung cancer. These doctors should have known that the donor was a smoker and should not have transplanted these lungs into any one. Failure to Careful patient history on the donor should not be excused. Additionally just because an industry has a “standard” does not mean it is an appropriate standard of care. Unfortunately, issues of med mal liability cases are very hard to try and win in the UK as they are becoming here. Having said that this case should go to trial, they may not win but the out cry may be enough to change the rules.

    What a tragedy for this young women and her family. It must have been horrible. My thoughts go out to her family. I hope a law firm in England can afford to do this pro bono.

  8. My high speed internet cable service has been restored Nick, so I would like to comment further. Below I have a link where you can go to find out all the information you would want to know about Organ Transplant. It is for UNO the non-profit organization that coordinate Organ Transplants in the U.S.and tried to ensure fairness in the process. Also is the link to a guest blog I wrote last year that tells about my own transplant experience.

    Before commenting further I went back to read the source story that JT wrote this blog from and I would like to point out certain facts from it:

    1. Jennifer was born with Cystic Fibrosis which Doctors believed would kill her in her teens.

    2. “Jennifer was born in Essex in 1985, and was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at the age of two. This hereditary disease coats the lungs and digestive system in a thick, sticky mucus. Her brother Richard, who was three years older, was also afflicted. “The doctor told us there was no cure,” recalls Mr Grannell. “She said, ‘They’ll both be dead by their teens. ”

    3. “Richard started to deteriorate, almost spookily, on his 18th birthday,” says Mr Grannell. “We got him on the lung transplant list, but there was only one call out and that was a false alarm.” He died peacefully in 2005, surrounded by his family, at the age of 23. “In terms of a death, it was good one. We were as prepared as you can be. We couldn’t fall apart over it, because we had Jennifer at home with the same prognosis.”

    4. By July 2009: “her health had deteriorated badly and she was using oxygen 24 hours a day.”

    5. “After 18 months on the waiting list, Jennifer was told in April 2011 that a pair of lungs was available. As her fiancé and mother waited by the bedside at the Harefield, a doctor ran through the risks of the transplant, including death on the operating table, and asked her to sign a form, confirming her consent.”

    6. Here is what I see as to the central point that establishes liability: “The Harefield {Hospital} was acting on the basis of guidelines in place when Jennifer was first put on the waiting list in 2009. But a revised policy had been published by NHS Blood and Transplant in March 2011, five weeks before her operation. This said a patient being offered an organ should be told “whether the donor poses a greater risk of transmission of infection or malignancy”. The question devolves on the responsibility of the hospital to have implemented the new guidelines, which the newspaper article presumes they didn’t. The proof of that would lie in the papers she signed, as everyone does, prior to the operation ad probably to the responsibility of informed consent that occurs when you are given the papers to sign and the Doctors discuss their significance.

    There is a shortage of available organs in the UK and currently 230 people on the waiting list for lung transplants. I judging this case one must look at the balance between need and risk. Judging by my own experience detailed below, need can be a psychological factor as well as ones physical state and imminent risk of death. In Jennifer’s case she was in a deteriorating and debilitated state and was on the waiting list for 18 months. In my case I was being kept alive by a heart pump and only had to wait 4 1/2 months on the transplant list. However, even though I was fantastically lucky and could have lived for awhile hooked up to my artificial heart machine I was in a state of depression/despair that a heart would never come. I can’t imagine what Jennifer, her husband and family were going through in those 18 months of debilitating deteriorating waiting and I am choked up and teary as I write this and empathetic to her plight as only someone who has been there can be.

    By the way donated lungs have a shorter “shelf time” than donated hearts in terms of the time frame for harvesting and re-implant. Also too, transplanting a lung is more difficult than transplanting a heart. Given that the unknown in this story is how quickly everything had to be done. In my case from notification to beginning the actual operation the elapsed time was perhaps 8 hours, with the transplant than lasting another eight hours. I Jennifer’s case my guess is they had perhaps less than six hours between notification and beginning the operation. The point I’m making is that given the need to hurry, things can be overlooked.

    Also too a part of this process is that the “harvesting team” (grisly term isn’t it) must get a history, “harvest” the organ and the examine it closely for lesions. The donor in Jennifer’s case may have had no apparent sign of cancer when the longs were examined. Who knows? Sometimes the information about the donors lifestyle aren’t readily apparent, or get missed in the rush to determine the donor organ’s viability.

    In my case my wife and I had discussed whether we would accept a donor heart if the donor had led a less than perfect lifestyle. Such as an IV drug user, AIDS patient, smoker, or other problematic lifestyle. so desperate was I to get a heart and remove myself from being tethered to my heart pump that we decided the only heart we’d preclude would be from an AIDS patient. That was me, I know of other who have made different choices, but then I was 66 at the time and had made my peace with the possibility of my death.

    The article does say that Jennifer hated smoking with a passion and had she been given the choice would have refused the lungs. Facing death is such a damned personal thing that I can’t judge. What I can judge is from the article Jennifer was an extraordinary and very intelligent young women and she deserved a better fate than this now 68 year old ex-stono hippie. Life, however, anyone else wants to characterize, is nothing in my opinion but a crapshoot. In the essentials I have been an extraordinarily lucky man at the dice game. Jennifer didn’t have my luck and that is a damned shame given her wonderful qualities.

    I think based on these facts alone that the hospital bears liability for reasons expressed in 6. above. I the US, since UNOS was established informed consent about the donor has always been part of the transplant procedure.


  9. MikeS, A smart attorney would hire you as an expert witness on this. Thanks for this superb comment. And thanks for showing you understood my ball bust. Some folks never understand the vast majority of my ball busts are really terms of endearment.

  10. Dead lady’s husband is standing there signing the form to let her be an organ donor. First question: Was your dear wife a smoker?

    Went in dumb, come out dumb too, hustlin round Atlanta in their Alligator shoes, drunk on the weekends at the barbeques. We’re England, Englaaand! We dont know an arse from a hole in the ground.

  11. if someone had asked miss wederell before the operation if she would accept a smokers lungs i wonder what her answer would have been.

    of course we can’t know the answer, just like we don’t know what it’s like to be drowning in our lungs secretions.

    although i am surprised the didn’t catch the formation of the cancer before it got that bad. after a transplant they do tend to keep a close eye on you.

  12. I don’t know how Great Britain allocates organs, but in the US, the ultimate decision goes to the transplant surgeon as to whether he/she will accept. The hospital may set policy, but it comes down to the surgeon who will implant the transplant as to whether to accept or decline a particular organ offer. The allocation process starts when brain death is declared, not when the organ is recovered, so there is a bit more time to make a decision. In the US, smoking history would be asked of the family through what’s called an MHBRA (medical history and behavioral risk assessment). The surgeon should know going in whether the donor was a smoker, as well as any other relevant medical and social history.

    Depending on the program, high risk issues such as smoking or Hepatitis status should be disclosed to the recipient and their acceptance should be noted. However, depending on how sick the recipient is, that conversation may happen with someone else or the recipient may be so anxious to get an organ that he/she may be willing to overlook a less than perfect organ.

    These are just general comments about transplantation. I’m not familiar with the case I’m not familiar with Ms. Wederall’s case, not with how Britain’s organ allocation and acceptance policies work.

  13. MASskeptic. (Malmö allman sjukhus?)

    Try Googling Margerat Atwood’s Oryx and Crake, try pigoons.

    More complex that often thought. And example of where limitless competition and entrustment of society to worthless hands, even scientific ones.

    It includes the arctic thaw with consequent methane release. The aridization of the world: salination of coastal aquifers, desertification of the midwest, and the steppes of Asia becoming sand dunes.

  14. A most sad but exemplary case. It was respectfully and responsibly discussed. A few questions if I may.

    Whether of not the latest weeks old regulations were followed is an open question of questionable merit there in UK it would appear. We have no clear answer as to that and related questions.

    Someone can perhaps answer if there are alternative choices in immunodepressants. ???? Giving less depression of the cancer suppressing capability of the body.

    A technical question: Is it the first line of defense of the immune system or the second which are involved?

    Swedes like UK has a single payer system with no civil suit possibilities as the laws stand now. Pay for private out of your pocket or if they are connected and will accept the state fee established, then some cost can be recovered.

    Thanks to NickS and Mike f out anor bringing out an important aspect in relationships. Ball-busting is acceptable in fine salons and can be used (preferably) with love between friends.

    One of the first if not the first artivicial heart patients was a rarity in two ways, He was Swedish and it was in Sweden—–but he also was a billionaire (infamously so in finance).

    We are so grateful that we have you with us MikeS.

  15. Thank you for taking the time to comment. Jen was not in any immediate danger on the eve of her transplant. So much so that I was away on business in Barcelona. She got the call at 10.30pm but the transplant did not take place until 6.30am the following morning. We assume the doctors were cleaning out the lungs during this time. The doctors came and sat on her bed and talked through (again) all the risks. Jen understood and accepted them all. This was the moment to explain the donor history. Why didn’t they do this? One can only speculate. Jen had no need to take those lungs. She abhorred smoking, the donor turned out to be more than twice her age and “admitted” to 20 a day smoking. Every cigarette packet in the UK carries the legend Smoking Kills – it makes no sense. However we have to get something positive out of this and get the public engaged to debate how we get more donors for the benefit of everyone. My fear is that there is already another Jennifer out there as recent government statistics reveal 40% of all UK lung transplants use smokers lungs. That cannot be right.

  16. Colin,

    As a heart transplant survivor, thus far two years out and especially as a father of daughters I mourn with you. The protocol in the U.S. has been for years that you will be told of the donor’s history, such as is known and thus have the ability to reject a proffered transplant. Jennifer should have been told of the risks beforehand. This was especially true since you now explain that she was in no immediate danger and my have been able to wait for another donor. It seems from the information given that the procedure was changed before her transplant and that makes the story worse. While I’ve mentioned the U.S. protocol, one of the things I’ve learned from my own medical history is that many health care professionals often don’t perform up to standards. This was tragically the case for your beloved daughter. She seemed to be a remarkable young woman with so much to give in her life. My words of comfort I know would be inadequate balm for the pain those who love her suffer at her loss. My empathy is all that I can inadequately offer and the assurance that my support for your efforts to change the system will be provided by my publicizing Jennifer’s story in the various transplant groups that I belong to.

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