Negligence Suits Filed in Case That Shut Down UPMC Transplant Program

Kidney Recipient Contracted Hepatitis C

Sep 20, 2011, 08:48 ET from Harry S. Cohen & Associates, PC

PITTSBURGH, Sept. 20, 2011 /PRNewswire/ -- A couple from Greene County in southwestern Pennsylvania today filed negligence lawsuits against UPMC Presbyterian Hospital (UPMC) and University of Pittsburgh Physicians (UPP).  The malpractice suits charge an April 2011 kidney transplant resulted in a patient receiving a donor kidney infected with hepatitis C.

The recipient is now infected with the disease, according to the complaints filed by the plaintiff's attorneys, Harry S. Cohen & Associates, PC of Pittsburgh. The filings claim the incident was a result of "negligent, reckless, willful, and wanton conduct" by UPMC/UPP. UPMC's transplant of the infected kidney resulted in hospital's living-donor kidney and liver transplant program being shut down for more than two months.

The suits were filed in the Civil Division of the Court of Common Pleas of Allegheny County in Pittsburgh on behalf of two plaintiffs, Michael Yocabet, the kidney recipient and Christina Mecannic, the kidney donor. They are life partners who have been together for 21 years and have an 18-year-old son.

Each suit contains 12 counts against UPMC and UPP, including several acts of professional negligence, corporate negligence, intentional and negligent misrepresentation/nondisclosure, and intentional and negligent infliction of emotional distress. The suits do not specify an amount of damages being sought but call for "compensatory and punitive damages...in an amount in excess of the jurisdictional limits of compulsory arbitration, excluding costs and interest."

At the heart of the suits is the fact that prior to Mr. Yocabet's April 6, 2011 transplant surgery, Ms. Mecannic, as part of the process to determine her eligibility as a donor, had her blood drawn and tested at UPMC Presbyterian. Hospital records indicate the lab results showed her blood tested positive for hepatitis C. Follow-up testing was recommended. The lab findings were reviewed several times by a series of UPMC and UPP physicians, nurses and technicians. They were also reviewed at two meetings of the UPMC Transplant Selection Committee. Nevertheless, Ms. Mecannic was approved to donate her kidney to Mr. Yocabet, who now, as a result of the transplant, is also infected with hepatitis C.

The suits state that Ms. Mecannic and Mr. Yocabet did not learn of the hepatitis C infections until May 6, 2011, one month following the surgery. Ms. Mecannic was summoned to an appointment with a UPMC/UPP surgeon, who questioned whether she had been a drug user or sexually unfaithful to Mr. Yocabet. That individual even suggested not informing Mr. Yocabet of the hepatitis C infection, an idea Ms. Mecannic vehemently rejected. She called the session "insulting."

The error was reported to federal agencies that oversee organ transplantation, the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) and the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS). As a result, UPMC's live-donor kidney and liver transplant program was suspended. UNOS, the agency that administers the national transplant program for the federal government, said its investigation indicated the incident was a result of "human error." The CMS investigation named several UPMC and UPP violations and stated the defendants had at least six chances to review the test results and stop the transplant, and they failed to meet federal and hospital guidelines to ensure the safety of its patients.

"The mistakes made by UPMC and their doctors have been physically and emotionally devastating to Michael and Christina, and will affect them the rest of their lives," said Harry Cohen, attorney for the couple. "It is vitally important to Michael and Christina that no other transplant patient have to suffer the way they are suffering."

Several UPMC and UPP physicians and others named as defendants in the suits include Dr. Henkie Tan, Dr. Mark Sturdevant, Dr. Jennifer L. Steel, Dr. Nirav Shah, Nurse Mimi Funovits, and others who work for the UPMC transplant program.

According to the suits, UPMC/UPP placed the financial rewards of completing transplant surgeries above its patient's safety, rushing to approve a surgery that should not have taken place. The suit states UPMC is a $9-billion enterprise whose revenues grew by $955-million in fiscal year 2011, and the hospital earns more than $100-million each year from the transplant program. Mr. Yocabet is no longer a patient of UPP or UPMC, but is under the care of physicians at Cleveland Clinic in Cleveland, Ohio.

SOURCE Harry S. Cohen & Associates, PC