Local News

Statement From Surgeon On Failed Efforts To Save Jesica

Posted February 22, 2003 7:14 a.m. EST

— Here is a written statement from Dr. James Jaggers, chief surgeon on the transplant team for Jesica Santillan, a 17-year-old heart-lung recipient who died Saturday:

"Today our focus is on the Santillan family. My own heart is with them as they face a loss at the end of a process that began with so much hope.

"I have known Jesica and her family since May of 2002, when her condition deteriorated to a level where only a transplant could prolong her life. She was placed on the transplant list due to the fact that she was extremely ill with a congenital heart defect that was eventually going to kill her in a relatively short period of time.

"Despite the large number of seriously ill people who would benefit from a transplant, less than 30 heart-lung transplants are performed in the United States each year. Most patients on the heart-lung transplant list die without getting organs. As Jesica's surgeon, I had hoped that when we were offered organs from the donor service, that Jesica would be one of those lucky few - that we would be able to prolong and improve her life with a heart-lung transplant.

"The process of matching donors to recipients is a very complex one and involves multiple steps and organizations. The organ procurement agencies manage the donors, screen the organs and allocate those organs to appropriate recipients based upon nationally approved guidelines. The other parties include the transplant center, the patients and their families. Unfortunately, in this case human errors were made during the process.

"As Jesica's surgeon, I am ultimately responsible for the team and for this error. I personally told the Santillan family about the errors that were made and then tried to do everything medically possible to treat Jesica and try to save her life.

"The staff at Duke Hospital, including the staff of the pediatric ICU and the other transplant surgeons, supported me in this effort. We put our all into what was, unfortunately, a losing battle.

"Everyone at Duke Hospital made great efforts to provide Jesica with a better life, and we failed.

"We all join the family in their sense of devastation. I hope that we, and others, can learn from this tragic mistake and move forward to make the process safer and available to more of those in need.

"To do otherwise would fail to properly honor Jesica and her memory."