DUHS agrees to Santillán settlementSeventeen months after a botched heart-lung transplant resulted in the death of Jésica Santillán, Duke University Health System has agreed to pay an undisclosed sum of money to her mother, Magdalena Santillán.
A court order requires that the details of the settlement, which pre-empts what would likely have been a very public lawsuit, remain secret.
"I'm sure that it was in the best interest of all parties involved in the case to resolve this case amicably at this time and put the suffering that results on both sides to a stop at this time," said Howard Nations, the Texas lawyer who handled the dispute on behalf of Santillán's family.
The situation was a "clear-cut case of liability," Nations said, adding that the publicity a trial would bring would harm both the Santillán family and the "outstanding" doctors at Duke University Hospital whose reputations were tinged by Santillán's death.
The incident set off a firestorm of national criticism regarding how organs are matched with recipients, and in the wake of the tragedy Duke Hospital instituted a series of safety guidelines, including additional checks of blood type compatibility. Since the issue never went to trial, Duke is not required to admit any fault, Nations said.
"We believe the agreement the court has approved is fair and equitable for both the Santillán family and for Duke," Dr. William Fulkerson, chief executive officer of Duke University Hospital wrote in a June 25 statement announcing the agreement.
The agreement marks the end of a tragic ordeal that began in Mexico, when Jésica Santillán was diagnosed with restrictive cardiomyopathy, characterized by an enlarged heart that pressed on her lungs. When she was 14, she and her family illegally immigrated to the United States in search of a replacement heart and lungs. After three years on the organ recipient waiting list, Santillán finally received a set of organs, which were transplanted at Duke Feb. 7, 2003.
It was later revealed that due to a medical error the organs Santillán received were of the incorrect blood type. Surgeons transplanted a second set of organs several days later, but the initial shock of the mismatched organs was too much for 17-year-old Santillán. She died Feb. 22, 2003.
The settlement came just five days before Dr. Victor Dzau took the helm of the Health System from Dr. Ralph Snyderman, who oversaw the Hospital when the incident occurred. The timing means that the new chancellor for health affairs will not have to deal with the potential media frenzy that would have resulted from a lawsuit.
A Hospital spokesperson declined to comment on the timing or the content of the settlement.
Nations said Magdalena Santillán will use a portion of the settlement money to increase international organ donation and to further the goals of Jésica's Hope Chest, a charitable organization for critically ill children established in Santillán's name.