Vincent Liew waited five years for the kidney that was supposed to change his life. Instead, the organ ended it. The kidney came from a woman who had uterine cancer, but she and doctors didn't know it. Once her disease was discovered after the transplant, Mr Liew's doctors highly doubted it could spread to him. But in seven months, Mr Liew was killed by cancer that his autopsy linked to the transplant. His death, the subject of a medical malpractice trial in which closing arguments were scheduled for today, is believed to be the only reported instance of uterine cancer apparently being transmitted by transplant, medical experts say.
The case has reignited questions about the sometimes hidden risks carried by transplanted organs, risks that transplant experts say they have worked to minimise but can't eliminate - but are worth taking for many patients. Mr Liew, a 37-year-old from Singapore who worked in the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in New York, didn't know the chance he was taking with the February 25, 2002, transplant that held the promise of freeing the diabetic from three-times-a-week dialysis. "He was very excited, very happy," his widow, Kimberly Liew, testified last week. But, she said, he ended up with "a bomb in his body."
Donor Sandy Cabrera had died of a stroke about a day earlier. The 50-year-old had seemed healthy until she collapsed while checking e-mail at her Newburgh, New York, home, and she and her loved ones had no clue about her cancer, said her boyfriend, Michael Daniels. "I feel real bad for the guy who got the kidney, but I'm telling you, no one knew she had cancer," Mr Daniels said. The doctors who treated her at St Luke's Cornwall Hospital in Newburgh didn't know either, until an autopsy found the uterine cancer days after her death, according to testimony.
His autopsy attributed his death to cancer that derived from the transplant and had genetically female cells, though it didn't specify the form of cancer. Dr Robert Gelfand, a NewYork-Presbyterian/Weill Cornell Medical Centre cancer specialist who reviewed the records for Mr Liew's widow, concluded Mr Liew died of uterine cancer. Kimberly Liew is suing the transplant hospital, NYU Langone Medical Centre, saying doctors there should have removed the kidney as soon as they learned of the donor's cancer.