Kidney patient given cancerous transplant

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The Independent Online
JOJO MOYES

A long-term kidney sufferer went into hospital for a transplant expecting a new lease of life but emerged to find himself facing a prolonged battle against cancer.

In a High Court damages action, a judge yesterday yesterday denounced hospital "blunders" which nearly cost Peter Sumners his life when a doctor failed to tell him that a cancerous kidney had been mistakenly transplanted into his body during the operation 10 years ago.

The Royal Sussex County Hospital, Brighton, conceded that it was wrong for deciding not to remove the kidney, or tell Mr Sumners, 51, of the risk, despite discovering that it had come from a dead woman who had cancer.

The cancer subsequently spread through Mr Sumners's body. But Mr Justice Collins ruled the hospital was not negligent in failing to diagnose the kidney as cancerous, because of the speed at which transplants had to be done.

Mr Sumners, from Haywards Heath, West Sussex, had suffered kidney problems since his twenties, eventually undergoing a transplant in June1986, his counsel, Mr Michael Parroy QC, told the court.

But after the consultant, who is now dead, chose not to tell Mr Sumners of the cancer risk or remove the organ, the cancer spread and he was left with little chance of survival.

The judge said staff at the hospital "could not really have made greater blunders in the way they treated him once they realised that they had put in a potentially cancerous kidney".

After believing for months that he was dying, Mr Sumners, against all expectations, went into remission. But Mr Parroy said the effect of the combination of dialysis and radiotherapy was to "totally wear down and demoralise" him. "His close family had a bad history of early death from cancer and the diagnosis was to him a death sentence," he said.

Mr Sumners remained on dialysis and under observation until June 1990 when he underwent a second transplant.

He is now claiming substantial damages from the hospital's manager, the former Brighton Health Authority, which conceded that he should have been warned earlier of the risk that the kidney was cancerous.

"There was a total failure to carry out any proper checks on him . . . when he had that kidney inside him," Mr Parroy said.

He described Mr Sumners as a "stoical" man who had borne his near-fatal illness with great fortitude, but he had been "psychologically scarred".

Mr Sumners said afterwards: "After 10 years, obviously I'm very relieved." Mr Justice Collins is expected to assess the amount of damages due to him next week.

A spokeswoman for Brighton Health Care NHS Trust said "a great deal had changed" since the case.

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