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Jesica Santillan About to Undergo Second Transplant Operation

Aired February 20, 2003 - 07:38   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: More now on a breaking news story this morning. We as have been reporting, 17-year-old Jesica Santillan is about to undergo a second transplant operation to replace organs that did not match her blood type. We are told that surgery is scheduled to begin in less than 30 minutes. There will be a news conference that will get under way in Durham, North Carolina when that happens. We will go to it live.
But in the meantime, we're going to check in with Dr. Sanjay Gupta, who happens to be on duty from Kuwait. He was getting ready to get on a plane and this was important enough that we made him delay his flight to talk a little bit more about this -- good morning, Sanjay.

Let's just for the record explain what Duke University has had to say so far. They have said they don't have the answers for how this mistake happened, but somehow the staff had been given confirmation of the compatibility of the organs. That was not the case.

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. And organ donation, the whole transplant listing is a fairly complicated issue. There's a national organization called UNOS, United Network for Organ Sharing. Typically what happens, Paula, is when someone's critically ill and it's deemed necessary to have an organ transplant, their name goes on a list. That list is determined by a few different factors, compatibility being the number one factor and compatibility, a large part of that is your blood type. And there are specifically different lists. There's an A list for A blood type, a B list, O list for the O blood type folks.

Other things that also make up the list is how sick somebody is and what their size is. Obviously, some organs aren't physically going to fit in the recipients of other people if the size doesn't match.

So all those sorts of things go up into making this list.

I've talked to a transplant surgeon who performs a lot of these operations and just asked sort of what could have happened in this sort of situation. And he said most likely what happened is from the very beginning her name had been on the wrong list. She's actually O blood type. The organ that she received came from someone with an A blood type. Her name may have been on the wrong list all along and that it was only caught after she started to reject the organs immediately after the transplant.

But a pretty complicated process in there, Paula, as far as checking all that. It is a rare situation that this sort of thing happens, but most likely a human error -- Paula.

ZAHN: Her doctors are now saying that she cannot survive without having a new heart and a set of lungs transplanted into her. But what will be the risks of a re-transplant?

GUPTA: Well, I'll tell you, it's exactly right. She probably would not survive this. I should mention that in certain situations with certain organs, such as the liver, it is possible to cross this ABO barrier, they call it, actually transplant someone with a different blood type into a recipient with a different blood type. You can actually cross that barrier. You can't do that with the heart and lungs.

What is needed for her right now are machines, essentially, to make sure that her heart is continuing to pump blood. She's on a ventilator to make sure that her body continues to get oxygen despite the fact that her lungs don't work.

As far as a second operation goes, doing a second operation is going to be a little bit riskier than doing the first operation. But certainly she is in such critical condition now, to get her out of that critical condition by actually doing the transplant is going to be the key to the game right now, actually trying to get her own organs, in this case the newly transplanted organs, the second transplanted organs, get those working again. That's going to be the best chance for all of her organs not to fail, which is a real concern.

Obviously she would need immunosuppressive drugs after the first transplant. She's going to need those after the second transplant as well. So a long road still in front of her -- Paula.

ZAHN: And we'd love for you to stand by, because we'd like to come back to you after the news conference gets under way to get your reaction to what we hear from not only Jesica's family members, but her doctors, as well. As you can see, reporters at least are converging on this room in Durham, North Carolina where the news conference will get under way. And we've been given all kinds of various times that it might happen. It hasn't happened so far. The minute it does get under way, we will take it live.



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