Woman needing a liver gets transplant from pig But patient dies before she can get a human one

October 13, 1992|By Los Angeles Daily News

LOS ANGELES -- Surgeons transplanted a pig's liver into a Burbank, Calif., woman's body to keep her alive for a few critical hours before a human donor organ became available, but the woman died, officials said.

Susan Fowler, 26, died before she was to undergo surgery late last night to replace the pig liver she had received Sunday, said Ron Wise, a spokesman for Cedars-Sinai Medical Center.

"As they were getting ready to bring her into the operating room, there was a sudden decline in her condition," Mr. Wise said. "By the time she arrived in the operating room she was far too unstable to perform surgery on."

The cause of her death was not released by officials.

The transplant team of doctors was slated to discuss the case today at a news conference.

Mr. Wise said when a human liver could not be found for the woman, a pig-liver transplant was performed Sunday over an eight-hour period.

A suitable human liver was found in Utah and arrived yesterday in Los Angeles, Mr. Wise said.

Sunday was the first time a pig's liver has been transplanted into a human, but other animal organs have been used in people.

Doctors decided to use the pig liver only after a nationwide search failed to find a human donor and Ms. Fowler's health deteriorated to the point where she lapsed into a coma, Mr. Wise said.

"She was literally hours from death [before the pig-liver transplant]," Mr. Wise said. "It was done only as a bridge, as a last step to save this woman's life."

By yesterday, the pig's liver was functioning inside her, although Ms. Fowler, who suffered from a childhood liver ailment, remained in critical condition as she was readied for surgery, Mr. Wise said.

Authorities on organ transplants hailed Sunday's operation as a significant advance in saving human lives, but animal-rights activists condemned the transplant as cruel and unnecessary.

Within hours of Cedars-Sinai's announcement yesterday, People for the Ethical Treatment of Animals announced that it plans to stage a protest outside the hospital.

Dan Mathews, a spokesman for the animal-rights group, said he suspected doctors did not work hard to find a human liver before they transplanted the pig liver.

Dr. Robert Mendez, director of the Southern California Organ Procurement Center, dismissed the criticism from animal-rights groups.

"This is just another step forward for the community, the medical and human community," he said.

In Ms. Fowler's case, it would be unfair for animal-rights activists to subject the doctors to criticism because they used a pig's liver and not one from an endangered animal or primate, Dr. Mendez said.

Dr. Mendez said Cedars-Sinai's decision to use the pig liver underscores the scarcity of donated human livers.

"Between 20 percent and 25 percent of all potential liver recipients die prior to their ability to obtain a human organ," the doctor said.

There were 2,952 liver transplants in the United States last year, and 71.6 percent of the patients were alive a year after the operation, Dr. Mendez said.

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