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Originally published August 18 2008

Organ Donor Recipients Receive Something Extra: Cancer

by David Gutierrez, staff writer

(NaturalNews) Two recipients of organs from 15-year-old Alex Koehne also received a rare and fatal cancer along with the transplant.

When Koehne died, his parents agreed to donate his organs for transplant, but requested an autopsy to determine his cause of death. Doctors believed that the boy had died from bacterial meningitis, and that this infection had been responsible for his sudden fever and back pain. While the autopsy was being carried out, doctors proceeded to remove his organs for transplant. Koehne's liver was given to a 52-year-old man, his pancreas to a 36-year-old woman, and his kidneys to a 46-year-old and 64-year-old man.

After the transplants had been carried out, doctors finally realized that Koehne had never had meningitis at all. Instead, he had been killed by a rare form of cancer known as anaplastic T-cell lymphoma.

The organ recipients were contacted, and all of them were found to have contracted the cancer. The recipients of the liver and pancreas both died - the man after three chemotherapy cycles and the woman after one.

"This is extremely rare," said John Brems of Loyola University in Chicago. "I have been performing liver transplants for 22 years, and this is only the second time I have heard of something like this."

Organs undergo a strict screening process before transplant, and family members of donors are even questioned to make sure the donor did not have any dangerous habits, such as intravenous drug use, that could lead to infection. Even unexplained symptoms are usually investigated. But in this case, the doctors' assumption that Koehne had meningitis appears to have led them to treat his symptoms as explained.

In response to the case, the institutions involved have tightened their organ screening protocols.

It has long been known that the immune suppressing drugs given to organ recipients increase their risk of developing cancer.

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