Smokers' lungs being used in transplants

June 16, 2010 at 7:34 PM
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NEW YORK, June 16 (UPI) -- There is outrage in England because a lung-transplant patient received donor organs from longtime smokers but doctors say that happens frequently.

A British woman who was given the lungs of a 30-year smoker in a double transplant died from pneumonia nine months later. Her family says surgeons should have told them more about the organs' condition.

However, given the scarcity of donor organs, medical experts say lungs of smokers are not off limits and such donations can still be lifesavers, ABC News reported Wednesday.

"We really don't tell patients that much about organ quality, partially because it's difficult for them to gauge risk," says Dr. Michael Volk, an expert in patient-physician communication at the University of Michigan.

"Patients are aghast that we would give them anything but the best," Volk said, "but they don't understand what to us as transplant physicians seems obvious: if you offer patients only the best quality of organ, than you wouldn't transplant many organs, and more people would die on the waiting list."

With organ waiting lists growing longer and critical shortages of donor organs, "we are pushing the boundaries with marginal donors," Dr. David Cronin, associate professor of surgery at the Medical College of Wisconsin, says.

"You can't expect transplants to be risk- and death-free," Cronin says, "but the consequence of not enough organs is certain death."

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