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Teenage Girl Undergoes Second Transplant Following Mistake

By Ken Ellingwood
LOS ANGELES TIMES -- A 17-year-old girl who was left near death after a botched heart and lung transplant at Duke University Hospital in Durham, N.C., received replacement organs Thursday in an operation that offered a coveted second chance for both patient and doctor.

Jesica Santillan, whose parents smuggled her from Mexico three years ago in hopes of replacing her defective heart and lungs, remained in critical condition following the four-hour procedure early Thursday morning. The operation was made possible when a heart and lungs became available overnight, even as time appeared to be running out for Jesica. The donor was not identified.

In a two-week span, Jesica underwent a rare and complicated procedure twice. “The family is clearly very relieved, happy,” said Kurt Dixon, a North Carolina attorney who has represented the family since the first transplant. “It’s a very extensive surgery, so they’re worried.”

Jesica was left gravely ill after a Feb. 7 operation during which she received organs that were of a different blood type. Her body rejected the replacement heart and lungs almost immediately, forcing doctors to place her on life support.

The ordeal has resulted in damage to other organs, and doctors warned that even though Thursday’s transplant went as expected, Jesica remained so sick that her chances for recovery were uncertain.

“She has a number of hurdles to overcome,” said Dr. Duane Davis, a transplant surgeon who assisted in the latest procedure. “Our hopes and prayers are that she will overcome all of them.”

The widely publicized case brought embarrassment to Duke, a respected medical center that has been the site of thousands of successful organ transplants. Duke officials accepted responsibility for the mix-up and responded by putting into place new safeguards to prevent similar errors in the future.

About 43 percent of heart-lung recipients in her age group -- 11 to 17 -- survive at least three years, according to the organ-sharing network.