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Discarded donor kidney highlights prevalence of medical errors

People in Pennsylvania and around the country were shocked to read that a donor's kidney -- removed from one sibling for transplant in another -- was carelessly tossed in the trash and rendered useless for surgery. Negligence may have caused the mix up, but who is to blame?

An individual, like a nurse, might be guilty of medical malpractice. The nursing supervisor, the surgeon and the medical facility may have all had a part in a miscommunication, a botched procedure, a misdiagnosis, a harmful surgery or some other human mistake.

But how often do health care mistakes happen? Many people believe errors, like throwing away donor kidneys, are uncommon. An article called Surgical Mistakes reported that about 100,000 U.S. patients die annually from surgical mistakes.

The kidney incident took place at the University of Toledo Medical Center, which had a 2 percent renal transplant failure rate over 40 years. National focus on the medical mistake caused the hospital to suspend two nurses and stop live donor transplants, pending an investigation.

A study from 2000 found that medical errors most often occurred during new procedures, with an inexperienced medical staff, during emergency or complex care and when age extremes were involved. Careless communication is often the source of human error. Studies indicate that human mistakes are responsible for as many as four out of five "adverse" patient events.

When 100,000 doctors were surveyed about medical errors for a study published last year in Medscape Medical Ethics, 19 percent said it was acceptable to hide mistakes when no harm came to a patient. When harm was possible, 2 percent of physicians still agreed that a cover up might be the best solution.

The loss of a donor kidney by accident or negligence is an irreparable offense. The woman who was supposed to receive her brother's donated kidney remains on a transplant list. Her health and life may be compromised by a thoughtless action.

Compensation for her suffering may be possible through a medical malpractice claim.

Source:, "Kidney from living donor destined for transplant thrown in trash," Anne Hart, Aug. 27, 2012

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