Local News

Jesica Loses Fight For Life; Death Comes Saturday Afternoon

Posted February 23, 2003

— Jesica Santillan, who survived a failed heart-lung transplant long enough to get an odds-shattering second set of donated organs, died Saturday afternoon.

Doctors declared her brain dead at 1:25 p.m., said Duke University Medical Center spokesman Richard Puff.

She was kept on life support until about 5 p.m. so family and friends could say goodbye, the hospital said in a statement.

Renee McCormick, a spokeswoman for a charity created to pay Jesica's medical bills, said the Santillan family didn't know untilthat moment that doctors were taking her off life support. A family lawyer said earlier they didn't want to remove Jesica from lifesupport until an outside doctor verified she was brain dead.

"They were hysterical," McCormick said. "The family's been treated so poorly. They're very hurt. These are human beings."

The family declined to donate any organs from Jesica's body, including the heart and lungs that she received in the secondtransplant.

Reportedly, the only organs of Jesica's that could have been donated were her corneas.

"Quite frankly, they didn't want Duke touching their daughter," McCormick said of Jesica's parents. "There was nothing left of that girl."

Jesica, 17, whose own heart was deformed, received a heart-lung transplant Feb. 7, but from a donor of a different blood type. Herbody rejected the transplant, and she was near death by the time the second set of organs was placed in her body early Thursday.

By early Friday, the newest organs were performing well, but Jesica's brain was swelled and bleeding.

"All of us at Duke University Hospital are deeply saddened by this," Dr. William Fulkerson, the hospital's chief executiveofficer, said Saturday. "We want Jesica's family and supporters to know that we share their loss and their grief. We very much regretthese tragic circumstances."

A spokeswoman for a foundation created to help pay Jesica's medical bills prayed for the girl at a news conference.

"Dear heavenly father, we want to thank you for Jesica's life," Renee McCormick said. "In one week, she was able to touchmore hearts in this world than most of us combined will ever do in a lifetime. ...

"We know that Jesica's work on this earth is done, and she is now an angel," McCormick said, and began to cry.

Family lawyer Kurt Dixon said Jesica's parents and supporters, who had remained with her through her hospitalization, would not beavailable for comment.

Jesica's heart condition kept her lungs from getting oxygen into her blood. Relatives have said her family paid a smuggler to bringthem from their small town near Guadalajara, Mexico, to the United States so she could get medical care.

She spent three years on a waiting list for a transplant while neighbors and friends in Louisburg, where her family moved to benear relatives, rallied to support her emotionally and financially.

In the first operation, Dr. James Jaggers implanted organs from a donor with type A blood, rather than Jesica's O-positive. Dukeofficials have said Jaggers and Carolina Donor Services, an organ procurement agency, failed to share information about her bloodtype.

See Letter Of Explanation

Jaggers, in his first public remarks on the case, said Saturday that

he bears responsibility

for the error as head of Jesica's surgical team.

"The process of organ donation is a very complicated one," he said, speaking softly and occasionally looking down and sighing ina videotaped statement released by Duke.

"In each step there is an individual, and individuals can make mistakes. Unfortunately in this case, a mistake was made. AsJesica's surgeon, I take responsibility for those errors. I take responsibility for the entire team."

Jaggers noted that, of thousands of people who need heart-lung transplants, only about 30 each year get the surgery while othersdie waiting.

"I had hoped she would be one of the lucky ones," he said.


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