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Are Liver Donors At Risk?

Last summer, 41-year-old Danny Lee Boone became what is called a living donor, giving a part of his liver to his half brother John Fisher. After a few weeks he died.

It's being called the first reported death involving a healthy adult liver donor matched with a recipient.

CBS News This Morning spoke with his widow Rhonda Boone about the risks and ethical implications of healthy people donating organs.


John Fisher's liver was failing. Tests showed he had nonalcoholic cirrhosis. He was put on a waiting list and told not to expect a donated organ for 18 months, the amount of time doctors gave him to live.

After hearing about the new live-donor program, Danny Lee Boone offered to be tested. He was a match. Doctors informed him of the risks but he couldn't be talked out it.

On June 24, both men checked into the hospital. The surgery was expected to last five or six hours.

Dying never crossed Danny Boone's mind, according to a co-worker. But the operation didn't last five or six hours; it took 20 hours and it led to his death three weeks later.

The number of adult-to-adult live-liver transplants has doubled in the last year.

Living-related liver transplantation may be modern medicine at its best.

Yet Danny Boone's death last summer has prompted debate over the implications of relying on healthy donors to save the lives of the sick. There is no system in place to report a donor's death or illness or collect data that future donors can use to help them make such an important decision.

"I want changes to be made in the reporting procedures for liver transplants," says Rhonda Boone. "I'm a third grade teacher and I'm more accountable for what I do than the surgeons doing this operation."

Rhonda Boone plans to join the fight for more widespread information about living organ donations. "I want people to be aware of the lack of available organs," she says.

In her opinion, the doctors did not give her husband all the information he needed to make his decision. "If we had known the risk is as high as it is, I don't think he would have done it. We've got a 15-year-old son," she says.

Rhonda Boone is not satisfied with the information the hospital provided about what happened after the operation, she says. She has hired two lawyers to help her get answers to her questions.

"We're reviewing Danny's medical records. I might file a lawsuit if I feel I can't get truthful answers," she adds.

"My husband was told this operation was 100 percent successful, and he'd be out in a week. He also understood the risks associated with any surgical procedure," Rhonda Boone says, noting that her husband was not the type of person who took risks.

"I'm strong enough to deal with all the financial stuff, but not enough to keep [from] missing my husband," she says. Fisher is doing well physically but emotionally aving a hard time, she adds.

Rhonda Boone believes hospitals should stop performing this operation until there is a method to report deaths or illnesses.

Dr. Wacks believes this procedure should not be abolished but that hospitals should provide for donor safety.

"Patients who die from this aren't dying from this operation. They die because they weren't the best candidates for this procedure or the surgeons doing it aren't experienced or there was a post-op complication," Wacks explains.

"Not all people should be donating livers....We've done 14 of these operations, but we've evaluated over 100 people," he says. Only hospitals experienced with liver surgeries should perform the operation, he adds.

This procedure has been around for two years, Wacks says, adding an estimated 14,000 are on the list of those waiting for new livers. "We're trying to come [up] with a model for donor and recipient selection. But this is how new surgery starts."

"It's an experimental procedure with a steep learning curve and should be entered into with great caution," Wacks says.

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