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Nurse Negligently Throws Away Kidney Intended for Transplant

For patients whose kidneys are no longer functioning properly, their most fervent wish is that they be lucky enough to receive a transplant. Those who do not face shortened life expediencies and must spend long and frequent hours undergoing dialysis.  In one recent year, over 16,000 kidney transplant operations were performed in the U.S. , a huge increase from when the first kidney transplant in the U.S. was performed in 1950. There are never enough kidneys available for transplant to go around for all the patients in need of one, however, so patients are placed on long waiting lists. 

Many people who understand this, generously agree to be organ donors, indicating this on their driver’s license or by signing a separate organ donor card and carrying it in their purse or wallet. Kidneys are then removed when someone dies in an accident. Viable kidneys are sometimes also removed surgically from living donors who wish to donate it to a relative to enhance the chances of the transplant being a compatible match. 

A young man recently submitted to such an operation, intending that his kidney be immediately be transplanted into his beloved sister, who was badly in need of one. This generous gift, motivated by love for a family member, was cruelly thwarted by the careless act of a nurse, and by the negligent  failure of the hospital to adopt needed procedures.  

The brother’s viable kidney was surgically removed.  It was carefully and properly subjected to cleaning procedures, and then deposited in a metal basin. Following that, is was placed for storage in a slush machine where it could be kept on ice awaiting the transplant procedure. A nurse, however, then tossed the contents of the slush machine in the garbage, not realizing that the viable kidney was in it.

By the time her mistake as discovered, the kidney was found in the hospitals system for the disposal of medical waste. By then, approaching two hours later, it was too late for the kidney to be used for transplant. 

The hospital at which this occurred has since then adopted new standard procedures for these kidney transplant operations. They no longer use a metal basin of the type involved in this incident. Instead, the hospital mandates that a distinctive plastic box be provided for the kidney to be placed in after removal from the donor. This square box is plainly marked “donor kidney,” so that no one could possibly mistake it for trash to be discarded. It is a shame that it took this egregious error to compel the hospital to adopt this seemingly obviously needed procedure.

The hospital also now requires that nothing be allowed to be removed from the operating room until a patient has been moved to recovery. While the plastic box with the donor organ is still placed in the slush machine to help preserve it, there now is an alarm that sounds when anyone approaches the machine.

Hopefully, other hospitals involved in performing transplant operations can learn from this experience and also adopt procedures to improve patient safety and to make sure that the generosity of organ donors is not wasted.