In November 2007, four organ transplant recipients in Chicago contracted HIV and hepatitis C from a deceased "high risk" organ donor.
It was a nightmare scenario, to be sure, but it was also an extreme rarity: the first documented case of HIV transmission through an organ transplant in more than 20 years.
Still, the ripple effect for surgeons who perform organ transplants has been significant, according to a study published Monday in the journal Archives of Surgery . Nearly a third of 422 practicing transplant surgeons surveyed by a Johns Hopkins research team in early 2008 changed the way they evaluate organs from "high risk" donors as a result of the 2007 incident, they reported.
While it's great that surgeons are aware of risks and take appropriate precautions, the researchers suggest, they might not be making changes to policy that help patients most. Rather, most of the adjustments made could have been considered "defensive medicine" -- moves designed to protect the surgeon, who might fear getting sued, rather than transplant patients, who desperately need donor organs.