Amid growing concerns about the spread of disease through organ transplant surgery, a Pennsylvania couple has filed two medical malpractice lawsuits against a hospital that transplanted a hepatitis C infected kidney from one partner to the other.

The organ transplant lawsuits were filed by Michael Yocabet, 50, and Christina Mecannic, 40, of Greene County. Surgeons at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center transplanted a kidney from Mecannic into Yocabet on April 6, but the couple claims that they did so despite test results indicating that Mecannic had Hepatitis C.

One of the lawsuits accuses the hospital and a number of staff members of negligence in missing the blood test results months earlier and then failing to note the results on several occasions before the transplant took place. The other complaint claims that physicians asked Mecannic whether she cheated on Yocabet, charged her with having used cocaine and then gave her the option of keeping her infection a secret from Yocabet. The couple has been together for 21 years and have an 18-year-old son.

According to allegations raised in the lawsuit, blood tests indicated that Mecannic had Hepatitis C on January 26, but the hospital failed to notify her and did not disqualify her as a potential donor. Another test on April 22 also indicated Mecannic had the infection, but she was not notified until a month after her kidney had already been placed into Yocabet, at which point she claims she was then given the option of keeping it a secret.

The hospital has indicated that the transplant was a medical mistake and the result of human error. The kidney and liver transplant division of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center was shut down for two months, a surgeon was demoted and a nurse was suspended as a result of the hospital’s investigation, officials claim.

Earlier this month, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued new draft guidelines designed to reduce the risk of HIV, Hepatitis B and Hepatitis C from organ transplants.  Among the additions to the updated guidance are recommendations for screening donors for hepatitis B and C, the use of more modern screening for organs slated to be transplanted and the use of a revised set of donor risk factors to provide a better idea of the risks associated with a donor’s organs.

Hepatitis C is an infectious disease that can cause liver damage, including liver failure, cirrhosis and liver cancer. It is technically incurable, but very effective treatment has been able to eradicate the disease in some of those who contract it.

The most common means of infection is through injection drug use. The CDC estimates that 60% to 80% of all recreational drug users in the United States have contracted hepatitis C from sharing dirty needles.

Mecannic says she most likely got infected through blood exposure while working as a licensed practical nurse in nursing homes.

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