COLUMBUS, Ohio – A family is speaking out about a botched kidney transplant in which a nurse threw out a man’s viable kidney just before it was to be given to his sister, saying that at first they assumed the woman had died because her scheduled surgery ended so soon.
Sarah Fudacz, 25, was to receive her brother’s kidney at the University of Toledo Medical Center last August but awoke without having undergone surgery because a nurse had accidentally thrown it out.
Hospital staff had recovered the kidney from the trash, and Fudacz said she saw it sitting in an incubator-like box, contaminated with biowaste and no longer usable.
“I saw the kidney and had a moment with it. ... I was thinking, ‘This should have been transplanted into me,” Fudacz told The Blade of Toledo on Friday during an interview in her attorney’s office in Columbus.
The hospital later helped Fudacz find a new kidney and pay for travel expenses to Colorado for the surgery, which was successful.
Still, the Toledo family is suing the facility over the mistake, saying that it deeply affected their lives and continues to cause them pain. And they say the kidney Fudacz received in Colorado isn’t a perfect match, meaning it will not last as long as her brother’s would have.
In the months between her botched transplant surgery and the successful one, Fudacz said she had to have additional dialysis, four surgeries related to dialysis, and the stress and uncertainty over whether she would ever find a suitable kidney.
The hospital denies medical negligence and is seeking to have the case dismissed.
“We apologize sincerely. We have done our best to provide many remedies to help those affected move forward,” Dr. Jeffrey Gold, chancellor and executive vice president for health affairs at the hospital, said in a statement Friday.
“While the legal realities of this situation are complex and ongoing, we have worked hard to learn from this incident and have spread these lessons widely to try to make hospitals and transplant programs safer across the country,” he said.
The Fudacz family said that is of no comfort to them.
Sarah Fudacz’s scheduled transplant came after she experienced failing kidney function through the end of her teenage years and painful dialysis multiple times a week into her mid-20s.
In March 2012, she was diagnosed with late-stage renal failure and desperately needed a transplant.
All her family members who were at least 18 got a blood test; her younger brother, Paul Fudacz Jr., turned out to be a perfect match.
“When they said it was going to be me, man, I don’t know. I was excited and then just tried to hide my nervousness,” Paul Fudacz Jr. said.
He said he was “freaked out” about giving up an organ but thrilled to help his sister.
Then came the surgery.
The siblings’ parents, Ellen and Paul Fudacz Sr., said they were left clueless as they waited for both their children’s surgeries in a hospital waiting room.
They were expecting their son to come out of surgery first, but when they found out their daughter was out first on an electronic status board, they said they assumed the worst.
“I thought Sarah was dead, just because no one was coming to us,” she said. “Time was going by. I was shaking like a leaf.”
For his part, when Paul Fudacz Jr. learned what happened to his kidney, the 21-year-old said he felt disrespected and has since “built up a hate” over it.
The hospital since has undergone internal and external reviews, clarified some procedures and temporarily suspended its live kidney donation program, which has since resumed.