A Gift of Life Turns Deadly

"If the diagnosis could not have been made earlier, I cannot see how this tragedy could have been prevented, since an autopsy would impose unacceptable time requirements on organ viability."

Schwartz, of the University of Utah, added that though he could not say for sure whether the hospital could have done anything differently, as he does not have access to the medical records, "These cases do happen, however, and it is not necessarily because someone is at fault."

Still, the case has already changed protocol at New York University Medical Center, where two of Alex's organs were implanted into recipients. According to local reports, the hospital has put in place guidelines that require stronger proof of bacterial meningitis before a deceased patient can be considered an organ donor. The University of Minnesota, which along with N.Y.U. was involved in the operation on Alex's pancreas, has made a similar policy change.

"There's been a change of policies from hospitals involved with the recipients of Alex's organs. This is where there's somewhat of a silver lining. We can bring attention to this, see what those changes are and help further this cause and families involved who allowed this change," said the Koehnes' attorney Ed Burke.

With luck, the new measures will shave down the already slim chances of such tragedies in the future. But no change in protocol will make organ transplantation procedures completely risk-free.

"[The public] should realize that transplantation is a risky business which is not guaranteed to be risk-free," said Dr. David Cronin, director of liver transplantation and the Transplantation Intensive Care Unit at Yale-New Haven Hospital in New Haven, Conn.

"We are taking organs from a dead person and putting them into another person to attempt to save their life. Many people don't like to shake hands, share a glass, etc. In transplantation, we are taking an organ from one into another. I think we have gone beyond sharing a glass with a stranger."

The Koehnes said they hoped their tragedy could serve as a warning call to others. "If it saves one person, we've done our job," Lisa Koehne said.

Click here to learn more about Alex's Promise, a scholarship foundation set up in his memory.

Imaeyen Ibanga contributed to this piece.

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