HIV Blamed on Transplanted Kidney

     WEST PALM BEACH (CN) – A woman says she contracted HIV from an infected kidney she received in a transplant at a South Florida hospital. Blood tests done before the transplant showed that the donor was positive for HIV antibodies, but nothing was done to stop the procedure, the woman claims.

     In a malpractice complaint in Palm Beach County Court, Karen Cruz claims that before her transplant, a lab had determined that her donor was likely infected with HIV. Communication broke down and neither her doctors nor the surgical staff stopped the transplant, she says.
     Cruz had been suffering from end-stage kidney disease and was put on the organ donation list at Miami’s Jackson Memorial Hospital in the summer of 2006.
     In August 2007, the complaint states, Cruz thought she had tracked down a viable kidney, and she provided her doctors “with the identity of a possible living donor,” relying on them “to evaluate the suitability of the potential donor.”
     During the screening process, Laboratory Corp. completed tests that revealed HIV antibodies in the donor’s blood, the complaint states.
     Cruz claims that her doctor, John Conrey, and his practice, Associates in Nephrology, received a confirmation that the donor’s blood was positive for HIV antibodies five days before the transplant.
     “Laboratory Corporation … issued a report dated Aug. 24, 2007, which was forwarded to the defendants, John Conrey and [Associates in Nephrology], reflecting that the donor tested positive for … HIV antibodies,” the complaint states.
     Dr. Conrey could not be reached for comment.
     Cruz says the contaminated kidney made its way to Southwestern Florida Regional Medical Center, where it was transplanted into her on Aug. 29, 2007. Dr. Ira Zucker led the surgical team, according to Cruz’s attorney, Lisa Levine.
     Late last year, the complaint states, Cruz discovered she was HIV-positive. Two weeks before the transplant her HIV test was negative, according to the complaint.
     If the investigation reveals that Cruz did contract HIV from the transplant, the transmission would be one of less than 20 such cases since HIV testing for donors was mandated in 1985.
     According to clinical pathologist Elizabeth Donnegan’s meta-analyses of transplantation contamination, seven of the 11 confirmed transplant-borne HIV transmissions between 1985 and 2004 were linked to one donor who had tested negative for HIV antibodies.
     The well-publicized 2007 HIV infection of four transplant recipients at Chicago-area hospitals has also been tracked back to a single donor whose HIV antibody tests were negative.     
     Cruz’s case is unique in that she claims the tests clearly indicated that her donor candidate was HIV positive. Nearly all of the previous transplant-borne HIV infections since 1985 were allegedly caused by testing errors or insufficiencies in HIV antibody tests that permit newly acquired HIV infections to go undetected.
     Cruz’s malpractice action names as defendants Conrey and his colleague Dr. Ronald Delans at Associates in Nephrology, along with Zucker and the assisting surgeon, David Burtch. Also named as defendants are hospital owner Lee Memorial Health Systems, Laboratory Corp., and Laboratory’s Corp.’s pathologist Ralph Hughes.
     When asked who she thought was most responsible for the alleged blunder, Levine responded, “They’re all on the hook.”
The defendant doctors’ depositions have not yet been recorded, she said.

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