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Press Conference on Status of 17-Year-Old Jesica Santillan

Aired February 20, 2003 - 08:13   ET


PAULA ZAHN, CNN ANCHOR: Right now we take you to Durham, North Carolina, where we are awaiting a news conference on the status of 17- year-old Jesica Santillan. She, two hours ago, underwent a second transplant operation. You might remember that she was given organs with a Type A blood that did not match her Type O positive blood type. And her body immediately rejected the organs. Her doctors at Duke University have said that they believed that she would not survive this unless she was given a retransplant.
We were just told about 20 minutes ago for the first time that that operation now is under way. If what we're being told is accurate, she's been now on the operating table for a little over two hours.

We're going to keep our eye on the news conference, in the meantime check with Chad Myers at CNN Center in Atlanta for a weather update.

And, Chad, if I have to interrupt you, I hope you'll understand why.


UNIDENTIFIED MALE: Last night at approximately 12:30, doctors from Duke informed the Santillan family, Magdalena and Melissio, that a donor had become available. Obviously, the family was overjoyed at that point and surgery, as you know, already has been scheduled for this morning.

At this point in time, we would like to thank the media, we would like to thank, obviously, god, and at this point we would like to take a minute to say a prayer of thanks.

RENEE MCCORMICK, JESICA'S HOPE CHEST: Good morning. My name is Renee McCormick. I'm a spokesperson for Jesica's Hope Chest. I would like to lead in prayer this morning.

Dear heavenly father, we want to thank you for putting us in the midst of the miracle. We want to thank you for the family that made the donation this morning. We want to thank you for making this possible. We want to thank you for putting organ donation as a national headline across the world and we want to thank you for the countries that have come together in prayer for Jesica. And lord, please, watch over the surgeons this morning, watch over the family. Comfort them, sustain them and, lord, please, if it is your will, let this child pull out of this surgery and be able to come home to her family and friends. We want to praise you, heavenly father, and we ask these things in your son Jesus' name.



MACK MAHONEY, SANTILLAN FAMILY FRIEND: All right, I have news. Jesica went into surgery at approximately 5:30 this morning. She is due to be out of that surgery somewhere around 10:30 or 11:30. It's going to take them five to six hours. Her family wishes to thank everyone for helping and they will give statements later, but right now they prefer to stay outside the operating room and outside this terminal.

I would like thank you, everybody, for helping me here, helping the world hear my plea for this child's life. And we'll give you more updates as we go and I'll take questions from anybody that wants to ask them.

QUESTION: Mack, do we have any information on where these organs have come from, who has donated them?

MAHONEY: At this point we do not.

QUESTION: Do you know if they were donated directly to Jesica (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

MAHONEY: The doctor said in the meeting we had last night at 12:30 that these organs came through the normal channels. They were not offered up specifically for Jesica. We still need to see if that is so. That's, you know, I mean I don't know that to be a fact. That's what the doctor said.

QUESTION: What are they saying the chances are?

MAHONEY: The doctor gives it 50-50 during the surgery.

QUESTION: What was her condition as they took her off for the surgery this morning? How would you describe what her condition (UNINTELLIGIBLE) was?

MAHONEY: Extremely critical. She is barely holding on. She is a very, very, very sick little girl. She is gone, she couldn't have gone another day.

QUESTION: Is the family receiving minute by minute updates or will they have to wait till the procedure is over?

MAHONEY: The family has received updates. I do not know exactly what they are. I have not been over there. I do plan to leave when I finish this press conference and go to the hospital, where I can be with them.

QUESTION: What was their state of mind and what type of emotions were they going through as she went in the surgery? MAHONEY: They were just relieved. I mean it was just a state of relief. I mean the tension had been so, you know, tight on them. They're, the doctors were, in the earlier meeting yesterday afternoon with the doctors, they were giving us grave news. They were saying that she didn't, she probably wouldn't last hours, they had to do something real quick.

I thank the world you guys got out there. You all did a great job, all of our networks, all of our local people, all of the newspapers. Everybody who's covered this has made this a winner that this little girl needed this and she got it.

Now, whether it came through private channels offered up for Jesica, I don't know, or whether it came through normal channels, with just so much pressure from the media on that normal channels, that it brought this about. According to the doctor, that's basically what it is. You have placed, the world has placed enormous pressure on this institution to do the right thing.

QUESTION: Now, what has been the response of the hospital?

MAHONEY: Well, the hospital obviously wants to wipe a little of the tarnish off their image. And we think that that's probably right. I would, you know, most people would (UNINTELLIGIBLE). We have faith in the surgeons. We have faith in Dr. Jervis (ph) as a surgeon. He is the one performing the second operation today. We feel that there was a grave mistake made. We don't, we do not question his skills as a surgeon, you know? We appreciate his interest in this.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) Jesica's successful surgery and recovery, what's the next move?

MAHONEY: Take her home. Let her sleep in her own bed. Let her be with her own family.


QUESTION: How important was it for the family for the original surgeon to perform this procedure, as well?

MAHONEY: You mean this day today?

QUESTION: Was there any consideration of there being, number one, another doctor to perform the second procedure?

MAHONEY: They wanted another doctor to oversee it and that is being done, another thoracic surgeon.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) another Duke doctor?

MAHONEY: I guess so.

QUESTION: (UNINTELLIGIBLE) the last 12 hours (UNINTELLIGIBLE) interesting. Could you walk us through the time line. (UNINTELLIGIBLE) you had this meeting and how we've gotten to where we are now, what's happened? MAHONEY: Well, at 12:30 we had the meeting. I immediately called my team, the people that had been backing me and helping me through this. I told them what I knew. There was obviously a leak to the media before everything was known. There's been some misinformation that's been reported. I'm sorry about that. Everybody was just so happy and I think a lot of the people, you know, the media learned -- I believe somebody told me that Duke had put something on their Web site and I think a lot of the people got it from there.

Some of this information, this misinformation, is not totally true and I'm trying to straighten that out. What I'm trying to tell you is what I know, no more, no less. And I will keep you updated as this procedure goes on. When she comes out of surgery, I'll let you know. I wanted to be over there in about 30 minutes when the head transplant team nurse comes out and gives the family members an update. If you'll wait where you are, I'll call over and I'll have one of my spokesmen give you that update.

QUESTION: People are continuing to bring California (UNINTELLIGIBLE)...

MAHONEY: We do not know that.

QUESTION: You do not?

MAHONEY: That is not known.


MAHONEY: No. And that is something they did not disclose and we can appreciate that. We prayed for the Dormer (ph) family and we wish them, and we thank them from the bottoms of our heart that they had the foresight to give the gift of life to Jesica.

QUESTION: Do you know if it was a boy or a girl (UNINTELLIGIBLE)?

MAHONEY: We have no idea. They do not disclose that information.

QUESTION: Will we get those details?

MAHONEY: You know, if I get them, I'll pass them on. But it's very unlikely unless the donor family wants that known. If the donor family wishes it to be known, they can tell.

QUESTION: So if you found out at 12:30 and the operation started at 5:30, you were during that time between those five hours that his heart and lung were transplanted (UNINTELLIGIBLE) were transferred here?

MAHONEY: I didn't understand that.

QUESTION: It's not local. I guess what I'm trying to figure out is if the heart and lungs were flown in between 12:30 a.m..... MAHONEY: I was told by the thoracic surgeon Dr. Jervis (ph) in the meeting early this morning, in the wee hours of the morning, that the Duke team was out there. That's the word he used. They're out there recovering the organs.

QUESTION: So we think that the university procured these organs?

MAHONEY: I'm almost positive that this was handled between two universities, you know, but (UNINTELLIGIBLE) because we almost estimate for them to, my understanding is for them to harvest the organs and preserve it for the transplant. It has to be preserved. There's certain procedures they have to go through. So the Duke doctors will have to be the ones, you know, to heaviest the organs, because they (UNINTELLIGIBLE) this procedure and someone not knowing that procedure would harvest it wrong and it would be worthless.

QUESTION: Mack, can you tell us, you've talked about how dear Jesica is to you personally. How are you feeling right now in your heart?

MAHONEY: I'm overjoyed. I mean I...

QUESTION: Mr. Mahoney...

MAHONEY: I'm tired and I feel a sense that really, I can finally rest.

QUESTION: Mr. Mahoney, you said that there's been some information in the course of this that's (UNINTELLIGIBLE) national attention, information that may have been inaccurate that has come out. Can you shed light on some of that possible inaccurate information and what the correct information is?

MAHONEY: Well, seeing I was (UNINTELLIGIBLE) this morning when I seen TV reports of what theoretically was going on about, I seen TV reports on the wreck in California and they were pulling the car up out of the water and they were reporting that thanks to this accident, we have this heart. And that is very, very wrong. And it's wrong for that family that lost their little ones. This is not something, this is something that should be handled more delicately than that.

I mean if I was that family, I would be devastated.

QUESTION: Mr. Mahoney, can you give us an update on Jesica's Hope Chest, your involvement in it and how much is in her hope chest right now, how much money has been raised?

MAHONEY: There's -- my involvement in the Hope Chest is I've got, I started the hope chest on the family (UNINTELLIGIBLE) two and a half years ago to help Jesica after reading a newspaper article in the "Franklin Times," a local county newspaper. The article touched my heart. The baby needed some help and I made my friends available to her.

And we got her the help she needed. We got her, through a lot a lot of work, through into Duke for, some of it was charitable in Duke. We managed to get, later on we managed to get some insurance coverage for her through very, very difficult means and very expensive means. We managed to really put together the package or the envelope, if you will, that helped her get here with this operation and possibly a (UNINTELLIGIBLE) operation.

And we managed to cover it through donations. The hope chest right now probably has $80,000 to $100,000 in it. I don't know exactly how much. But we...

ZAHN: You've been listening to Mack Mahoney, a family friend of Jesica Santillan, talking about the amount of support Jesica and her family has had as they've gone down this terrible road from a young woman who, because of a heart defect, was having trouble getting oxygen from her lungs into her bloodstream. She had this transplant of a heart and lungs at Duke University. A mistake was made and the blood types were not matched. The surgeon determined she would not survive this if she was not given a retransplant.

We have just learned that at 5:30 this morning, she went into surgery for a second heart/lung transplant. Her family friend, Mack Mahoney, describes her as barely hanging on going into the surgery, a very sick little girl.

Let's check in with Sanjay Gupta, who joins us from Kuwait right now, to help us better understand the miracle now of the second heart transplant, if it works.

Mack Mahoney made it very clear that it is his understanding that these organs came through normal channels, that they were not applied to Jesica specifically. And when you look at the numbers, Sanjay, in 2001 and 2002, only 55 of these kind of transplants were done with 197 people on the waiting list. The odds of this happening were not too good, were they?

DR. SANJAY GUPTA, CNN CORRESPONDENT: That's right. I mean this is, you're speaking to a great problem in organ transplantation for all organs. Certainly with heart/lung it's very clear, almost four times as many people waiting as actually getting organs.

A couple of things to consider, Paula, certainly she was very critically ill. All patients who are waiting for transplants are often very sick. But she was critically ill, as her family friend described, critically hanging on. And therefore that really moves her up the list a great deal in terms of actually getting an organ transplant.

So normal channels may have been employed and a heart and lung may have actually come through those normal channels as she was so high on the list -- Paula.

ZAHN: And Mack Mahoney just said the surgeons have given her a 50-50 chance of surviving this retransplant. Walk us through what some of the most critical risks are at this juncture, having gone into this surgery very, very sick.

GUPTA: That's right, well, going into the surgery very, very sick is probably the most critical thing. You know, operating on people who are already critically ill is a very dangerous thing to do. It sounds a little paradoxical because at times those are the people that need the operations more than anybody else.

But because she's so sick, how is her body going to react to general anesthesia? How are her other organs going to react to the operation itself? How is her, how are her new heart and lungs, how quickly are they going to start working and taking over a lot of those functions? There are so many different balls in the air here when it comes to actually trying to determine how she will do, it makes it very challenging.

The operation itself may actually go even quicker than the first operation, as she so recently had this operation, but there are a lot of different factors to consider in terms of their overall success -- Paula.

ZAHN: Sanjay, thanks for your insights from Kuwait City this morning.

GUPTA: Thank you.

ZAHN: And we will keep you all posted on Jesica's condition as her family and the hospital brings us up to date.



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