The family of a UK cystic fibrosis patient who died of cancer after she was given a smoker's lung during a transplant operation is speaking out about her death for the first time.
Jennifer Wederell's family has started a campaign to encourage more non-smokers to register as organ donors as new statistics revealed that four in 10 lungs used in transplant operations come from donors who have smoked, according to The Telegraph.
A shortage of organ donors means that more and more recipients are being given "high risk" organs that come from people who have smoked, cancer patients, drug addicts and the elderly.
Jennifer had been diagnosed with lung cancer less than a year after her transplant operation. Her family said that only then was she told that her donor had been a middle-aged person who had smoked 20 cigarettes a day.
Her family said that if Jennifer, who died August at the age of 27, had been given to full facts, she would have never agreed to the transplant.
Jennifer's father Colin Grannell and husband David Wederell told Sunday Telegraph in an interview that they are campaigning for what Jennifer would have wanted: to make sure that patients get an informed choice and to encourage more healthy people to donate much-needed organs.
Jennifer's family has made a Facebook page called Jennifer's Choice in hope to persuade more non-smokers to register as potential lung donors.
"We also want people who have waited all their lives for a transplant to be given the full facts, and the choice that Jennifer never had," Colin said, according to The Telegraph.
According to the UK paper, only 13 percent of all transplants used 'marginal organs' that come from high-risk donors with a history of smoking, disease or from the elderly 15 years ago. However, new statistics from the UK health minister Earl Howe reveal that in the past three years, a worrying 39 percent of lungs used in transplant operations come from smokers.
However, it is important to note that patients with serious conditions are significantly more likely to die from refusing transplants than from accepting lungs donated by a smoker, the Association of Lung Transplant Physicians said.
Jennifer was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, a hereditary disease that clogs the lungs and digestive system with thick, sticky mucus, when she was two-years-old. The disease had also claimed the life of her older brother Richard Granne when he was just 23.
Jennifer had met her husband, David, in 2007. However, when they got engaged in 2009, her health had deteriorated so badly that the couple decided to delay their wedding in hope that Jennifer can get a lung transplant.
Jennifer had waited for 18 months before she was told in April 2011 that a pair of lungs was available.
She had consented to the transplant after her doctor told her of the risks. However, a few weeks before her surgery, transplant guidelines had been revised. Under the new rules, doctors are required to inform patients whether their new lungs carried a higher than normal risk of cancer.
However, Jennifer was treated under the previous rules and doctors failed to tell her that her new lungs had come from a person who had smoked 20 cigarettes a day.
"That would have been the time to say, 'The donor was a smoker, therefore there is a higher risk of malignancy. Do you want to go ahead or not?'" David told the Sunday Telegraph. "They didn't mention it. If they had, she would have said no."
Jennifer's transplant had appeared to be a success and they married a few months later.
However, their newfound marital bliss was quickly shattered a few months after their wedding when Jennifer was diagnosed with lung cancer. While doctors had said she had only weeks to live, she survived for another half a year and died at home on August 24.
The Royal Brompton and Harefield NHS Foundation Trust released a statement last Friday offering their sincere condolences to Jennifer's family.
"It is very rare for patients to specify that they do not wish to be considered for clinically healthy lungs from smokers, but we recognize that Jennifer should have been given the opportunity to make this choice. We have apologized sincerely for this oversight and reiterate our sympathies to the family," a spokesman said in the statement, according to The Telegraph.
"Regrettably, the number of lungs available for transplantation would fall by 40 per cent if there was a policy of refusing those which have come from a smoker; waiting lists would increase and many more patients would die without a transplant," he added, according to the Daily Mail.