Published on August 15, 2006
© 2007- The Press Democrat

After three years on a transplant waiting list, Diane Jurrens hoped her new kidney would allow her to resume activities like theater, opera and entertaining others.

But six months after receiving a transplanted kidney at Santa Rosa Memorial Hospital, her husband said doctors delivered devastating news: The donor organ had to be removed; it was cancerous.

Jurrens died of cancer four months later. She was 48.

Her husband, Darwin Jurrens of Santa Rosa, is suing the hospital, its transplant center and medical personnel involved in the June 2005 transplant.

In the suit, Jurrens charges medical personnel failed to properly screen the donor and organ and they failed to quickly remove the cancerous kidney, which ultimately led to his wife’s death.

The suit, filed July 28 by Santa Rosa attorney Richard Sax, alleges negligence, malpractice and severe emotional distress. Jurrens is seeking unspecified monetary damages.

Memorial Hospital spokesman Kevin Andrus said it is hospital policy not to comment on pending litigation.

Andrus said the hospital hasn’t experienced similar problems with any other transplants at its Northern California Kidney Transplant Center. The center has performed 388 transplants since 1988.

Nor have there been any problems with Golden State Donor Services, which is responsible for providing suitable donor organs to the hospital, he said.

Golden State Donor Services is not named in the suit.

Sax said the case is in its early stages, with investigators still trying to gather information about the deceased donor — a Michigan woman — her medical history, other potential organ recipients and what screening procedures were conducted on Jurrens’ transplanted kidney.

“We want to know if it was tested or not, or whether it was adequate,” he said.

Although born with deformed kidneys, Diane Jurrens lived a full life after receiving a transplanted kidney in 1985 at age 29, her husband said. She hoped a second new organ would give her another 15 good years.

An only child with no children, Jurrens lived with her husband of 14 years in Guam for a time but returned to California when her kidney failed. She underwent dialysis while on the transplant waiting list from 2002 to 2005.

Darwin Jurrens, 44, stopped working as a hardwood floor finisher as Diane’s health worsened and took over her in-home health care.

The suit says Jurrens felt sick shortly after her August 2005 discharge from Memorial and doctors denied her request to biopsy the new kidney to determine if it was causing her illness.

In March, Jurrens said, local doctors received information that his wife’s kidney donor had ovarian cancer and the donor’s other kidney was provided for transplant at UCLA Medical Center. That recipient, a 58-year-old man, was diagnosed with cancer from the transplanted kidney, he said.

On March 6, Jurrens’ doctors told her she had contracted cancer from the diseased kidney, the suit says. Two days later, the kidney was removed.

“By that time, she already had cancer cells in her stomach and lungs. I just knew from the time they told me about this that Diane was a goner because of the cancer,” Darwin Jurrens said. “But I thought she’d last a lot longer.”

During the next few months, Jurrens underwent dialysis and chemotherapy, but she died June 20.

Darrell McDonald, who works with Sax, said he is investigating a change in national organ screening procedures that no longer requires testing for cancer markers in organ donors.

David Heneghan, a spokesman for the California Transplant Donor Network in Oakland, said three main conditions rule out organ donation:

* HIV, the virus that causes AIDS.

* A certain strain of hepatitis B.

* Cancer that has metastasized outside the central nervous system.

A social-behavioral survey of the donor’s medical history is conducted to determine any pre-existing conditions or potential disqualifying factors.

If the donor’s ovarian cancer hadn’t been diagnosed and wasn’t in the family history, it may not have raised red flags, he said.

A donor organ would likely be scanned and physically examined before transplantation, said Annie Moore, a spokeswoman for the Richmond, Va.-based United Network for Organ Sharing, which administers the nation’s organ procurement and transplantation network and is named in Jurrens’ suit.

But, she said, not every disease can be detected or prevented.

“Anytime you have a transplant, there are risks that are involved, as in any operation,” Moore said. “And you also have to weigh the risks of life without the transplant.”

In addition to the hospital and the organ sharing network, the suit names Drs. Thomas Duckett, James Palleschi, Desmond Shapiro, Gopa Green and Benjamin Fritz and nurse Nancy Swick, who coordinates the transplant center.

You can reach Staff Writer Lori A. Carter at 568-5312 or lori.carter@pressdemocrat.com.