RALEIGH, N.C. – As Jesica Santillan's family grieves her death after a botched heart-lung transplant and a rare second one, they have become the target of criticism for refusing to make the girl an organ donor herself.
"We have received several scathing e-mails from people who are concerned that the family refused to donate Jesica's organs," said Mack Mahoney, head of the foundation created to pay for the girl's medical bills.
Like most details surrounding Jesica's death and the bungled transplant that preceded it, survivors and doctors at Duke University Medical Center differed Monday on why a family that benefited from two transplants in as many weeks would refuse to donate organs.
One medical ethicist said the criticism is unfair.
"My bottom line is -- let the family grieve now," said Thomas Murray, president of The Hastings Center, a medical ethics think tank in Garrison, N.Y. "It's a horrendous thing to lose a child."
Laura Wright, who received a transplant of a kidney and a pancreas six years ago and heads a Charlotte transplant support group, said she doubted that any of Jesica's organs could have been reused.
"You've got tubes and wires everywhere," she said, "and the amount of drugs they pump through you is astronomical."
Jesica, a 17-year-old Mexican girl who moved to the United States with her family to receive care for a heart deformity, spent three years on a waiting list before receiving a heart-lung transplant at Duke Feb. 7.
But surgeons discovered they had mistakenly transplanted organs of the wrong blood type, causing the body to immediately reject them. She was near death by the time the second set was placed in her body last Thursday. Irreversible brain damage soon followed, and after more than a day without brain activity, she was declared dead Saturday afternoon.
According to Mahoney, Jesica's mother asked doctors about donating the girl's new heart and lungs as well as other organs. She was told the heart and lungs could not be reused and the kidneys and liver were ruined from being on life support machines for too long.
Other organs and tissues were so saturated with medications and anti-rejection drugs that they also would not be reusable, Mahoney said.
"By the time the doctors got around to telling the family that they may be able to use the corneas of Jesica's eyes," Mahoney said, "the family had been put through the worst ordeal a family could face.
"And a very tired and emotionally worn out mother took the advice of her legal counsel to leave Jesica as is, for the pending autopsy."
That autopsy was performed Monday by state medical examiners, but results won't be released until a final report on the case in six to eight weeks, said chief medical examiner Dr. John Butts.
Duke officials said doctors were told by Carolina Donor Services, the state's organ procurement agency, "that based on their initial assessment several organs may be viable for donation."
Jesica's mother declined to speak with the procurement agency, Duke said in a statement. A spokeswoman said hospital officials could not describe which organs were fit for donation because of patient confidentiality laws.
Carolina Donor Services was unable to discuss any aspect of Jesica's case because of confidentiality laws, spokeswoman Jane Corrado said Monday.
A public memorial service for Jesica was scheduled for Wednesday evening at Louisburg College, where her mother worked as a housekeeper.