For many individuals that choose to be organ donors, this is a wonderful way to give life after death. When an out-of-state individual passed away in the hospital from an illness, both of their kidneys, their liver, and their heart were all donated. A resident of Maryland was the recipient of one of these donations. At the time, this appeared to be a life-saving gift. However, about a year after the transplant, the Maryland recipient became ill and died.
Following this mysterious and sad death, the Maryland Department of Health and Mental Hygiene concluded upon investigation that the recipient died of a rare type of rabies from raccoons despite any exposure to the animal. Upon further investigation, the department was able to conclude that the recipient contracted the rabies virus from the transplanted organ when testing confirmed that the organ donor was infected and also killed by the virus.
The other three organ recipients are still alive and being treated with anti-rabies shots. While organs for transplant are tested for disease, there is not time in such sensitive circumstances to test for everything. Rabies is extremely rare in humans; therefore it is not regularly tested for when an organ is examined for transplant.
It is difficult to say what could have been done differently in this situation, or similar situations in which a patient dies under very unusual and rare circumstances. A failure to timely diagnosis a patient in Maryland can at times be grounds for a claim of negligence and medical malpractice. However, in circumstances that are similarly unusual, a jury may be more difficult to sway without a strong advocate.