A man who agreed to donate part of his liver to help a sick relative died during the transplant procedure at Lahey Clinic two weeks ago, the hospital said today.
One leading transplant specialist said it was only the third death in the United States of a living liver donor.
Lahey, which has performed more liver transplants from living donors than any other program in the United States, declined to identify the donor or release further details of the tragedy, which occurred on May 24, saying that the "families have informed the Clinic of their desire to grieve privately.''
The hospital said it reported the death to the Massachusetts Department of Public Health, which has opened an investigation, and Lahey is conducting an internal review of what went wrong.
"I can confirm an incident was reported and that there is a pending investigation," said public health spokeswoman Julia Hurley, who said officials could not comment further until the review is complete.
Liver transplants from living donors, usually a healthy relative, have been growing, because the number of ill patients awaiting transplants greatly exceeds the supply of cadaver donors and because the procedure is generally considered safe, though the donor undergoes surgery to remove a portion of his or her liver.
Of the 323 living donor liver transplants done in Massachusetts since 1994, 215 were performed at Lahey. This is the first donor death since the program began in 1999, the hospital said.
According to the Mayo Clinic's website, living liver donors are hospitalized about a week after the operation and have only occasionally required blood transfusions. "Nevertheless, the donor operative procedure is a major operation and not without risk. Mayo Clinic's transplant team estimates a risk to the liver donor's life of 0.5 to 1 percent,'' the hospital says.
During the operation, surgeons transplant about 60 percent of the donor's liver to the recipient. Within several weeks, the liver in both patients almost completely regenerates
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