ALEXANDRIA, N.H. -- John Petraszewski knew having cystic fibrosis would shorten his life, but it wasn't the genetic disorder that killed him in April. It was a rodent-borne virus he acquired after undergoing a double lung transplant.
''When he got the lungs, we were in second heaven. Everyone was so happy for him," said his mother, Mary Petraszewski. Now, she said, ''I cry a lot and I say, 'Why?' Of all the freak things to happen."
Petraszewski, 41, was one of three patients who died of lymphocytic choriomeningitis virus after receiving organs from a single donor. A fourth transplant patient became ill, but is recovering. Health officials believe the donor may have contracted the virus from a pet hamster purchased in Rhode Island.
The virus is rarely fatal for healthy people, but drugs used after transplant surgery to keep the body from rejecting the new organ suppress the immune system, making recent recipients vulnerable to disease.
In 2003, he moved from New Mexico to Alexandria to live with his family and prepare for a lung transplant. On April 10, he got a call from Brigham and Women's Hospital telling him to come in, a donor had been found.
When the lungs were in, a doctor told his family the operation could not have gone any better. By 3 a.m. the next day, he was in the recovery room with a new chance for life. But 3 1/2 weeks later, he died from liver disease caused by the rodent virus.
Lisa Babian, who works for the Cystic Fibrosis Foundation in Nashua, said Petraszewski was one of the top fund-raisers for a charity dirt bike ride in 2003, when he rigged up an oxygen tank to his bike.