Woman, 27, Dies of Lung Cancer After She’s Given Lungs of A Chain Smoker During Transplant

A 27-year-old woman with cystic fibrosis died of cancer after she was given the donor lungs of a smoker.

Jennifer Wederell, of Hawkwell, Essex, died at home in August – 16 months after the transplant at Harefield Hospital in London.

Colin Grannell said he believes his daughter would not have agreed to the transplant had she known the middle-aged donor was a heavy smoker.

The hospital has apologised for not giving her that choice.

Jennifer had been diagnosed with cystic fibrosis at the age of two and by her mid-20s was using oxygen 24 hours a day.

She had been on the waiting list for a lung transplant for 18 months when in April 2011, she was told there had been a match.

Mr Grannell said the family had “lived all for that moment” for years, and thought it would help Jennifer “cheat” her condition.

All organs must be free of apparent disease before transplantation.

A person cannot donate if they have been diagnosed with HIV or the fatal brain disease CJD (Creutzfeldt-Jakob Disease). Physical condition, not age, is the deciding factor.

The medical history of the donor is looked at – including a review of any past investigations like chest x-rays

Before lung transplantation, a small camera may be used to look for any inside trauma

Matches are made on blood group, tissue type, and if the size of organ fits the recipient

The waiting list is prioritised by need, greatest benefit and length of wait

Last year NHS Blood and Transplant said doctors should tell patients in advance if there is an increased risk because of the donor’s personal history – such as smoking, disease or being elderly.

But if patients decline these so-called ‘marginal organs’ they would have to wait for another match – and that could be even longer if, say, they wanted organs from a non-smoker

Four in 10 lung transplants involve organs taken from a smoker

Despite the increased use of higher risk organs, patients’ outcomes are improving year on year

Currently 217 patients are on the waiting list for lung transplants in the UK

To join the NHS Organ Donor Register, call 0300 123 23 23, text SAVE to 84118 or go to the website

She married her fiance David Wederell in September last year, but by February 2012 a malignant mass was found in her lungs.

‘Should have choice’
“The shock immediately turned to anger in so far as all the risks were explained in the hour before her transplant and not once was the fact smoker’s lungs would be used mentioned,” said Mr Grannell.

“She was dying a death that was meant for someone else.”

He has set up a Facebook group, Jennifer’s Choice, to encourage non-smokers to sign up to the organ donor register.

The Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust said: “It is very rare for patients to specify that they do not wish to be considered for clinically healthy lungs from smokers.

“This is because the risks are much higher if patients decline donor lungs from a former smoker, and decide to wait for another set of organs which are both a match for them and from a non-smoker, to become available.

“However, we recognise that Jennifer should have been given the opportunity to make this choice.

“We have apologised sincerely for this oversight.

“Regrettably, the number of lungs available for transplantation would fall by 40% if there was a policy of refusing those which have come from a smoker; waiting lists would increase and many more patients would die without a transplant.”

Jennifer Wederell’s father says his daughter’s death was meant for someone else
Prof Stephen Spiro, honorary medical adviser at the British Lung Foundation said: “It’s very difficult to say why the cancer developed.

“It is seriously possible that the cancer may have started in the lung before transplantation, but it was so small there was no chance of spotting it.

“Recipients of transplants are immunosuppressed, to stop the body rejecting the organ – this may have encouraged the cancer to grow. But is no one really knows- these are just theories.”

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