Ohio Transplant Victim Says Hospital 'Wasted' Brother's Trashed Kidney

Sarah and Paul Fudacz allege in lawsuit that ordeal scarred them.

August 30, 2013, 8:43 AM

Aug. 30, 2013 — -- An Ohio man who had his kidney surgically removed to save his sister's life, only to see it accidentally thrown out by a nurse, said he lay "in a lot of pain" unable to help.

His sister Sarah Fudacz thought she was being given the gift of life as hospital staff wheeled her into surgery last August at the University of Toledo Medical Center, she told "Good Morning America" today.

Instead, she woke up to a nightmare: A kidney that was a perfect match was in the trash.

"Somebody wasted part of my brother," Sarah Fudacz, who was 24 at the time, said.

"I knew something had gone wrong as soon as I was being led out of surgery, because I lifted up my shirt and there was no incision," she said today on her 25th birthday.

"I thought this was going to be the end of it and I'd finally start feeling better," she said. "I remember just asking over and over again, what happened?"

Paul Fudacz, 21, was also shocked to learn of the accident. "What really made it clear to me was seeing my sister walking around fine, and I'm laying in bed in a lot of pain."

The siblings, their parents and four other brothers and a sister have filed a lawsuit against the UTMC, which this week denied all allegations of medical negligence.

Read about the latest news in kidney transplantation.

Sarah Fudacz was suffering from end-stage renal disease at the time of the botched transplant operation, but she was hopeful when doctors said her brother Paul was a perfect match.

"When he [her brother] said, 'Yes,' it was the most amazing moment of my life," she said.

Instead, Sarah Fudacz was forced to spend three more months on dialysis before another donor kidney was found and she was transplanted in November in Denver, Colo.

"I just cried because I couldn't believe that I was back where I started when I should've been healthy," she said. "I should have been recovering. ... They threw away my life ... they threw away something that meant so much to me."

UTMC admits a nurse threw away the man's kidney, but nevertheless is asking a state court to dismiss a lawsuit filed by the family.

"They are admitting they threw the kidney away, but they are not admitting substandard medical care," Fudacz family lawyer James E. Arnold told ABCNews.com.

"They must think that it is within standard care to throw a kidney away," Arnold said. "It would be more decent to admit substandard care, and the family shouldn't have to be going through litigation to prove it. It's obvious to everyone but the university, in all fairness."

But Dr. Jeffrey Gold, chancellor and executive vice president for health affairs at University of Toledo Medical Center, said in a prepared statement today that the hospital is "sympathetic and sorry" about the accident.

"The university continues to express the sorrow that we feel that this unfortunate incident occurred. We apologize sincerely. We have done our best to provide many remedies to help those affected move forward."

Gold said UTMC's renal transplant program had performed more than 1,700 renal transplants over more than 40 years with a better than 98 percent success rate.

"While the legal realities of this situation are complex and ongoing, we have worked hard to learn from this incident and have spread these lessons widely to try to make hospitals and transplant programs safer across the country," said the statement.

The hospital is also challenging claims by the family to recover damages for pain and suffering, according to the Ohio Attorney General's Office, which is defending the medical center because it is a public university.

"The state felt [the family's claim] did not have basis, essentially, under Ohio law," AG spokeswoman Kate Hanson said.

Under state law, an adult child can recover for loss for a parent, but not the other way around, according to Arnold, the family lawyer.

"It hardly makes sense," he said.

At the time of the transplant accident, doctors tried to resuscitate the kidney, but it was rendered unusable, both sides have said. After a state investigation, the hospital's live-donor program was temporarily suspended, but has since resumed.

In the months between her failed surgery and the one in Denver, Sarah "suffered through painful dialysis, four painful surgeries ... and was forced to live through the uncertainty of whether she would ever find a kidney suitable for transplant before dying," the family has alleged in its lawsuit.

Dr. Michael Rees, the surgeon who performed the surgery, continues to work at the public medical center, according to court documents.

The center's administrator of surgical services was placed on paid administrative leave.

A part-time nurse who discarded the contents of the protective slush machine, including the kidney, before surgery was complete, resigned Sept. 10, 2012.

UTMC fired longtime nurse Melanie Lemay, who relieved the part-timer when the latter took a break. Lemay is now suing the hospital for wrongful discharge, defamation, slander and libel, according to a complaint filed Aug. 2 in the Ohio Court of Claims.

The suit seeks damages exceeding $25,000.

John and Sarah Fudacz, their parents and their four other siblings filed the lawsuit July 29 against UTMC in the state Court of Claims in Columbus, alleging medical negligence and damages for pain and suffering.

The eight members of the Fudacz family asked for damages of $25,000 each, according to the lawsuit.

As for the health of the Fudacz siblings, they are "functioning well," according to attorney Arnold.

"But the quality of the kidney is not as good as the one the brother was going to give to her," he said. "The match characteristics are not as good when you take it from a stranger."

He argued that Sarah Fudacz has a higher risk of organ rejection and might have to undergo another transplant in her lifetime.

"From a functional perspective, Paul can live on one kidney, unless something happens to him," Arnold said.

"But I have never known anyone who wants a kidney taken away for no good reason."

ABC News Live

ABC News Live

24/7 coverage of breaking news and live events