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Teen's Gift of Life Turns Tragic

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Mom of teenage boy who died shares how her son's organs may have infected patients.


When Lisa Koehne's 15-year-old son Alex came down with what she thought was a stomach flu, she never dreamed in a million years it could be deadly. As Alex's health deteriorated, Lisa shuttled him to doctors and hospitals. No one could figure out what was wrong. Eventually, after Alex suffered a seizure at home, he was diagnosed with spinal meningitis. When he was admitted to the hospital and slipped into an irreversible coma, his parents decided to take him off life support.

When Alex passed away, doctors asked Lisa and her husband if they wished to donate Alex's organs. Because they were reassured that Alex's organs were not affected in any way, they agreed. But when they got Alex's autopsy results weeks later, they found that Alex was suffering from a rare brain cancer that had affected other organs in his body. Too late to warn the other recipients, Lisa shares what happened next.

momlogic: How many organ recipients were there, and who were they?

Lisa: There were four of them. A 64-year-old man and a 43-year-old man who each received a kidney. A 36-year-old woman received the pancreas, and a 52-year-old man received the liver. We also gave his skin to the NY Fire Department burn unit. Apparently, it doesn't transmit through the skin, so the skin recipients have all been fine.

momlogic: When did you learn the donors were sick, and that two had passed away?

Lisa: In January, a friend asked if we heard anything about the donor recipients. She heard something might have happened to them. I contacted our caseworker and she told me that two of the recipients passed away, and they retracted the kidneys from the others. The recipients who received the liver and pancreas both died.

Click here to hear Lisa's emotional response.

The rules were too lax, and they gave organs to people not knowing what our child really died from. If someone had said something to us, we wouldn't have donated the organs, but no one said anything and they were all too happy to take the organs. We thought we could bring some joy to people and their families, and now not only were they sick from what they were dealing with, but on top it, they had to go through chemotherapy. The man who received Alex's liver died within 116 days of implantation, and the woman who received the pancreas died within 160 days.

momlogic: After selflessly donating Alex's organs and going through this experience, would you be an organ donor again?

Lisa: Yes, absolutely. From the time my son was little, he was interested in becoming a policeman, fireman, or going into the Coast Guard. We knew this was what he would have wanted. I just think the hospital and organization need to look at what's happened and get some protocols into place. If there's a doubt as to what someone has died of, they shouldn't donate the organs. This has to be brought to light, instead of just being hidden, which is what we felt was done.

momlogic: What is your message to other Moms?

Lisa: I want Moms to know that donating organs is a wonderful thing and if you can do it at the time, do it. Our message is: If there is any doubt of what your child or anyone has died from, don't donate until you know the cause of death. We just want to get the word out to keep the people receiving the organs safe.

Click on an image to view the In Memory of Alex Gallery!

3 comments so far | Post a comment now
Darla May 1, 2008, 12:52 PM

What an incredulous story. I commend Alex’s parents for being generous, but she’s right—these hospitals need to implement better donor protocols.

Alex May 8, 2008, 4:07 PM

This is a sad story but the parents still did a wonderful thing by donating Alex’s organs. There are so many people who pass away yearly who wait for an organ donation. Everyone should be as kind as them. And hospitals should have better system in place to make sure that like blood donations, organs are healthy as well.

Alicia June 12, 2008, 5:04 PM

Such a sad story, my heart goes out to all involved. However, this is an isolated event. As a healthcare provider I worry about putting stories like these in the media. Not enough people donate organs as it is, scaring people will make them even more fearful to donate their loved ones organs. I agree we should screen more throughly, however time is of the essense, people die everyday waiting for organs.

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