Thursday, Oct 29th, 2009
Matthew Millington, 31, was an Iraq war veteran who served in the British army. Suffering from an unspecified “serious long condition”, doctors told him he would be dead in two years unless he underwent a lung transplant. With tens of thousands of people world-wide awaiting organ transplants, the young man was one of the “lucky” patients who soon received his lungs from a donor. The problem was he was given lungs riddled with a fast growing cancer — and Millington died less than 10 months after his operation.
This is just a horrible, rare, mistake right? Not necessarily, according to a warning just issued by the UK health  service. It specifically lists other examples of diseased and damaged organs being inappropriatedly donated for transplantion — in addition to cancer , these include “fatty” organs, which can be caused by a donor’s obesity or alcoholism and result in cirrhosis in a transplant patient, and organs containing cuts and other damage resulting from the organ retrieval process. Most horrific was a report of a donor patient found to be infected with vCJD, the human form of mad cow disease, as well as hepatitis  B. In addition, the report notes problems with patient identification errors and incorrectly matched tissue types.
The British report does not include any information about diseased transplanted organs in the U.S. or other countries. However, it does point out that the quality of transplant organs isn’t always the best, in large part because there is a huge, critical need for transplanted organs. And this organ shortage has hit the U.S., too. For example, according to the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services, around 17,000 Americans have received organ transplants  this year but another 104,335 are waiting for organs.
In the UK, according to the British newspaper The Telegraph, information has emerged revealing that donated organs are being accepted from drug addicts because of the critical organ shortage in that country. In fact, an investigative report in that publication found a reluctance by patients and transplant surgeons alike to reject any organs offered unless there are extremely compelling reasons.
A spokesman for Papworth Hospital, Huntingdon, where Matthew Millington received his deadly transplant, told The Telegraph: “Using lungs from donors who have smoked in the past is not unusual. During 2008/09 there were 146 lung transplants carried out in the UK. During the same period 84 people died on the waiting list. If we had a policy that said we did not use the lungs of those who had smoked, then the number of lung transplants carried out would have been significantly lower.”
Because of the critical shortage of organs for transplants and the fact more people are needing transplants every year, there is a push world-wide to encourage organ donation. Unfortunately, the same amount of resources and energy doesn’t seem to be directed into preventing the need for transplants in the first place. The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services lists the major reasons for organ failure as being conditions that are almost always preventable or treatable with healthy diets, exercise and other natural measures: obesity, diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease , stroke, and lifestyle choices ( including drug and alcohol  abuse).