Woman Dies After Receiving Double Lung Transplant from Smoker
Lynsey Scott suffered from cystic fibrosis, an inherited disease that causes a thick, sticky mucus to build up in the lungs and digestive tract, making breathing difficult and increasing the risk for serious lung infections. In February 2009, at the age of 28, she received a double lung transplant that her family hoped would prolong her life, but unfortunately she did five months later of pneumonia. Ms. Scott’s family recently learned that the organ donor had smoked for 30 years.
Ms. Scotts’ family is now calling for policy changes for patients to receive more information from organ donors before accepting a transplant. Her father Allan said “We know Lynsey wouldn’t have gone ahead had she known the donor was a smoker. The doctors took that choice away from her by not telling her. For someone to have a major operation like a double lung transplant and not be given all the facts is unthinkable.”
The matter has now been referred to the Health Ombudsman. The University Hopsitals South Manchester NHS Trust maintains that its staff followed guidelines set by the National Blood and Transplant Service. Britain’s top transplant official Chris Rudge says that “lungs from a smoker can be working perfectly normally.”
However, the BBC reports that because of a shortage of donors, surgeons are being forced to consider an increasing number of less healthy organs. “Because the number of lung donors is extremely low and 30% of lung recipients die before getting a transplant, UHSM and other transplant centers have extended their criteria,” says an unnamed spokesman.
In the US, the average time for a lung is 1,068 days according to an annual report from UNOS, the United Network for Organ Sharing. The most common reasons for lung transplantations are end-stage COPD (including emphysema), idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, cystic fibrosis, idiopathic pulmonary hypertension and other causes such as bronchiectasis and sarcoidosis. The recipient must meet an established set of medical criteria before receiving organs, including the abstinence from tobacco and alcohol use.
According to the UNOS website, requirements for potential lung donors are more subjective. Lung donors must be healthy and free of active diseases such as cancer, HIV or systemic infection. At the time of death, medical professionals perform a physical assessment of the organs and review medical and social history to determine whether or not a person can be a donor.
A 2009 report published in Scientific American found that more than 80% of donated lungs can’t be used due to inflammation or other factors. Transplanted lungs also fail at a higher rate than other transplanted organs due to transplant rejection. Signs of rejection include fever, flu-like symptoms, increased difficulty in breathing, worsening pulmonary test results, and increased chest pain or tenderness.
For more information about organ donation, visit www.unos.org.