Organ transplants seem so commonplace today that nobody really gives them much thought – unless you or a family member is on one of those lists. If you are, it means a life or death race against time. Something some patients have much less of than others. That’s why there’s a priority list designating which patient is in greater need. It’s not a first come first served transaction.
In November, a New Jersey hospital made the mistake that no organ transplant patient wants to hear. They made a careless error and gave the kidney intended for one patient to another who was further down the transplant list. This was a clear case of medical malpractice, if ever there was one. Both patients wound up having successful transplants within a week, but the hospital had no way of knowing another kidney would become available so quickly.
According to a 2017 Millman report, the average wait time for a kidney to become available is 679 days. It’s the longest waiting period for any organ transplant other than a pancreas, which is also 679 days. Some patients have waited as long as 5 years to receive a viable donor kidney.
How did a transplant error happen?
When patients undergo any surgical procedure, it’s common practice to verify identifying information beforehand. The purpose is to ensure the correct patient is going under the knife. These patients had the same name and were close in age, making it even more critical that extra precautions were taken to identify the right transplant candidate. In this case, it appears there was a failure to verify other criteria in the patient’s medical records to be sure the correct individual received the organ.
Kidney transplant patients often require dialysis treatment to clean toxins from their blood to stay alive. The longer a patient remains on a transplant list, the sicker he or she may become. Eventually time may run out so missing an opportunity to receive a lifesaving procedure is certain to cause emotional distress.
Avoiding certain medical malpractice instances should be simple
Doctors are held to a duty of care standard that’s common practice in their field of specialty, and even based on what is adopted as basic duties of care in their communities. According to Medical News Today, medical malpractice is where a health care professional fails to act or provide proper treatment, or provides substandard treatment that harms a patient through injury or death.
The legal elements necessary to prove that medical malpractice occurred are that:
- A professional duty of care was owed to the patient
- There was a breach of that duty
- The patient’s injury was caused by the breach
- The breach resulted in damages
In this case, the medical staff and doctors had a duty to be sure the correct patient was receiving the organ. They failed miserably in this regard and implanted the kidney into someone else, which is breaching that duty. Had medical staff charged with confirming the patient’s identity checked even a social security number, the error might have been avoided. Medical malpractice stemmed from what amounts to a basic, yet serious, clerical mistake.
The injuries a patient may experience can range from physical to psychological. It’s easy to imagine that a transplant candidate, who knows his or her life is hanging in the balance, would be distraught upon learning a reckless and potentially fatal mistake was made. In addition, expensive dialysis treatment needed to be continued until a new kidney was found. Depending upon where kidney patients sit on the transplant list, it’s also plausible that a decline in health could occur suddenly.
The innovative medical malpractice attorneys at Eichen Crutchlow Zaslow, LLP are devoted to ensuring the citizens of New Jersey receive the quality medical care that they are owed. Let one of our client-focused attorneys explain your legal options to you during your free consultation. To make an appointment in our Edison, Toms River, or Red Bank office, call 732-777-0100, or we invite you to reach out to us through our contact page.