New York—Vincent Liew though he was getting a new lease on life when he received a kidney transplant. However, what he didn’t know was that his donor was a woman with uterine cancer. However, his doctor informed him that there was only a very slight chance that he could contract the female cancer—advice that proved fatal. After hearing his doctor’s advice, Liew decided to keep the kidney and died after contracting cancer, the only known case of cancer being transmitted by a transplant.
Liew’s widow brought a medical malpractice lawsuit against NYU Langone Medical Center, and jurors began deliberating the case in late May. The hospital argued that it advised Liew of the risk, honored his choice, and aggressively monitored the kidney for signs of cancer. Although they argued that tests found nothing, Liew suffered back pain and ultimately had the kidney removed six months after the transplant occurred in 2002. Sadly, he died just three weeks later from an unspecified cancer at the age of 37.
Liew was originally from Singapore and worked in the Hong Kong Economic and Trade Office in New York. He was a diabetic since his early teens and required dialysis treatments three times a week. He awaited a kidney transplant for five years prior to receiving the donor kidney from Sandy Cabrera, who died at age 50 from a stroke. Although no one knew, an autopsy revealed that Sandy also had uterine cancer that had begun to spread to her lungs. According to trial testimony, the news didn’t reach Dr. Thomas Diflo, the transplant surgeon, until mid-April 2002, weeks after Liew had his transplant surgery on February 25, 2002.
Overall, the medical malpractice case brings up concerns about the risks and rewards of transplant surgeries. For example, although there is currently no medical literature available on uterine cancer being transmitted by transplant, according to a 2009 article in the American Journal of Transplantation some 23 transplant recipients in were judged to have possibly contracted cancers, HIV, tuberculosis and other diseases from their donors. Nevertheless, Liew’s widow lost her case.