Woman, 27, Tragically Dies of Cancer After Getting Heavy Smoker's Lungs in Transplant

smokingWhen 27-year-old named Jennifer Wederell who had fought a difficult battle with cystic fibrosis died this past summer, her passing was the result of a horrifying medical misstep. Jennifer received a lung transplant in April 2011. But it wasn't until she was diagnosed with lung cancer, in February 2012, that she learned her lungs were from a heavy smoker ... someone who smoked "20 cigarettes a day."

Of course you can imagine how utterly horrified and angered Jennifer and her family were by this discovery ... But tragically, by the time the young woman was diagnosed, the cancer had already spread and she died in August. While the hospital where she had her transplant apologized and called the situation an "oversight," the unnerving reality of the matter is that they legally did nothing wrong ...


Currently, hospitals aren't required to divulge every detail about a potential donor's history, so long as the organ is healthy. The Daily News spoke with Dr. Roblee Allen, professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine at UC Davis, who explained:

You don't go through detailed histories of smoking, all that kind of stuff. You tell them that the patient is free of any diseases, but the specifics aren't necessarily reviewed.

That's apparently because families don't always want their loved ones' private details shared with a stranger. Nonetheless, it sounds like the laws and practices surrounding organ donation need to change. More information and specifics have to be available to patients receiving organs, because detailed histories could make all the difference in whether or not the organ saves or costs them their lives.

What happened to Jennifer is an obviously horrible example of this. But, at the same time, I hope stories like hers don't deter people from getting or donating much-needed organs. For every nightmarish tale like this, I would hope there are many more with happy endings. My fiance and I are friends with a couple who recently participated in a kidney donation chain -- the husband gave to a stranger, so his wife could receive a kidney transplant that saved her life. Today, they are healthier than they've ever been.

And happy stories like that are what Jennifer's family want to see going forward. That's why they've launched a campaign called Jennifer's Choice to raise awareness about the organ shortage and encourage non-smokers to sign up as donors. Good!

While there's no reason to incite unnecessary fear about organ donation, perhaps Jennifer's story is a wake-up call. Maybe it is time to take a closer look at how organs are donated and given to patients in need. Because what happened to this vibrant young woman may have been legal, it's still utterly unacceptable.

How do you feel about organ donation?

Image via Shannon Holman/Flickr
Read More >