Local News

Autopsy To Be Conducted Monday To Confirm Cause Of Transplant Patient's Death

Posted February 24, 2003

— Medical examiners plan to conduct an autopsy Monday to shed some light on what ultimately killed Jesica Santillan, a teenager who survived a botched heart-lung transplant but died days after a second transplant.

Kurt Dixon, a lawyer for Santillan's parents said an autopsy is appropriate.

"We just want to make sure we know what the cause of death was," he said. "If there's going to be legalaction down the road, you want to have a definite cause of death. You don't want to speculate about that."

After doctors declared her death early Saturday afternoon, the Santillan family said they wanted to seek a second opinion from doctors outside Duke before drugs that kept the teenager's heart beating and machines that kept her lungs working were stopped.

The hospital acted before the family could contact physicians who may have been able to offer an outside opinion on Jesica's condition, Dixon said.

"All requests by the family, such as second opinion or continuation of ventilator and medication support, were not optionsin the setting of death,"

Dr. Karen Frush, the hospital's medical director of children's services, said in a statement Sunday night.

"By North Carolina law, it is up to the physician to stop all support once the patient has died," the statement said. "We explained to them that Jesica was not in a coma or a vegetative state, and therefore, it was not the family's option to maintain her on a ventilator."

Dixon said the Santillan family and he will get Jesica's medical records Monday. Dixon plans to review those records, and then, he said, the family will decide if it wants to pursue legal action against Duke University Hospital.

Santillan's funeral will be held at the Norris Theatre at Louisburg College at 5 p.m. Wednesday.

Duke University Hospital was the site of an outpouring of emotion Sunday night, a day after the 17-year-old died after undergoing two heart-lung transplant attempts in the past two weeks.

Nearly 100 people gathered outside the hospital for a candlelight vigil. They shared prayers, song and sorrow over Santillan's death.Mourners said they were just members of the community who were touched by Santillan's stuggles.

Memorial services also were held in Louisburg,

where Santillan and her family spent the last few years after coming to America from Mexico.

Doctors at Duke University Medical Center in Durham

declared Santillan dead

1:30 p.m. Saturday after more than a day without brain activity.

Santillan was left on life-support so her family could say goodbye. The machines were turned off at 5 p.m., and her heart stopped beating about 10 minutes later.

Duke reported Santillan's death to the medical examiner's office in Chapel Hill, hospital spokesman Richard Puff said, because of

the error her surgeon committed

by transplanting type A organs into Santillan, who had type O blood. Her body had rejected the new organs.

Santillan's own heart had a deformity that kept her lungs from getting oxygen into her blood. She received a heart-lung transplantFeb. 7.

She was near death by the time the second set was placed in her body early Thursday. By early Friday, the newest organs wereperforming well, but Santillan's brain was swelled and bleeding.

Mack Mahoney, a family friend and Santillan's chief benefactor, said the family was in seclusion Sunday. He said funeralarrangements were expected to be completed Monday, and separate family and public services were likely to be held Tuesday.

Mahoney said he thinks the family will return Santillan's body to Mexico for burial, but that had not been decided.

Relatives have said Santillan's family paid a smuggler to bring them from their small town near Guadalajara, Mexico, to the UnitedStates so she could get medical care.


Please with your WRAL.com account to comment on this story. You also will need a Facebook account to comment.

Oldest First
View all