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Switched liver transplant led to man's death

/ Source: The Associated Press

A high school principal who had been first in line for a liver transplant died less than a year after an organ improperly went to someone else and records were faked to cover the switch, a published report said.

St. Vincent Medical Center removed the educator from the waiting list, but he was told his condition was stable and was left to believe his turn would still come, the Los Angeles Times reported Thursday. It never did, and Saad Al-Harthi died at age 59 in August 2004.

“They killed my father,” Majed Al-Harthi said by phone from Rome, where he works for a Saudi oil and gas company. “Intentionally or unintentionally, they killed him, and they have to be punished for it.”

St. Vincent suspended all liver transplants last month after a routine audit caught the problem. Officials say they don’t know the motive behind the transplant switch and are investigating whether there were other such cases.

Dr. Richard R. Lopez Jr. — then-director of the hospital’s liver transplant program, who performed the transplant with his assistant director, Dr. Hector Ramos — has resigned from St. Vincent’s medical staff, hospital spokesman Paul Silva said. Ramos stepped down as chairman of the hospital’s bioethics committee but remains on staff.

Ramos’ lawyer, Evelina Serafini, said her client knew the organ had been intended for Al-Harthi but assumed that staff had received permission for it to be transplanted in the other man, who also was a Saudi national.

Lopez referred calls to his attorney, David Fisher, who declined to comment.

Under national transplant rules, St. Vincent’s should have turned down the liver because Al-Harthi was in Saudi Arabia and couldn’t have flown to the hospital in time for the surgery. A UCLA Medical Center patient was next in line on the list, and 50 people were deemed more needy than the eventual recipient.

Instead, St. Vincent’s accepted the organ in Al-Harthi’s name. A hospital clerk then falsified records to make it appear that Al-Harthi had received the organ, hospital officials acknowledged. The clerk said a nurse asked him to do so at Lopez’s request, according to hospital President Gus Valdespino.

Dr. Ronald Busuttil, the head liver transplant surgeon at UCLA, said Al-Harthi’s condition was dire and that he would have advised the patient to move to Los Angeles from Saudi Arabia to be immediately ready for a transplant.

Instead, Al-Harthi was told his condition was stable and that he should visit St. Vincent once a year for evaluations, according to a letter from Lopez to the Saudi Embassy.

A limited number of foreigners are allowed to join waiting lists at U.S. hospitals.