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Woman Dies While Donating Kidney to Relative

Jupiterimages/Thinkstock(NEW YORK) -- Montefiore Hospital in New York voluntarily suspended its live donor organ transplant program after a woman who was trying to donate a kidney to a relative died during an operation, according to a hospital source.

The voluntary move by the hospital has drawn attention to the possible dangers of living organ donation, and some experts say the case may dissuade some who are contemplating becoming a live donor to follow through.

The incident, which is now under investigation by the state health department, is the first live donor operation death to occur at the hospital, according to hospital sources.

"The patient experienced a rare complication of this surgery," according to a spokeswoman for the hospital, who would not confirm details of the case.  "The doctors recognized the problem and took extensive steps to save the patient's life."

More than 900 people nationwide have participated as living donors since January 2012, according to data by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network.  Kidney and liver are among the most common organs donated by a living person.

"[Live organ donation] is incredibly important because there are not enough cadaver organs to go around," said Dr. Jonathon Bromberg, chief of the division of transplantation at the University of Maryland.  "Live organ donations allow us to save more lives."

Bromberg said however rare a fatal complication may be, the number of willing donors plummet when people hear about cases where a transplant goes wrong.

"We often do see a decrease in people willing to be a living or deceased donor," he said.  "We do have very direct conversations with those who are considering being a donor about the risks."

Live organ donations are among the most highly regulated procedures, not just by the hospitals but federal agencies including the Health Resources and Services Administration, according to Dr. Alan Koffron, chairman of surgery and director of the transplant program at William Beaumont hospital in Royal Oak, Mich.

"It's so well controlled and so well regulated that it's typical that when something goes wrong the center shuts down to find what's wrong," said Koffron.  "We're trying to be good stewards of this procedure."  

Organs from live donors are more likely to function sooner in the recipient's body and be of better quality than an organ from a deceased donor since the live donor organ has only been out of the body for a short time.  Living donor and recipient surgeries are typically done on the same day to help preserve the organ.

Evidence also suggests that recipients of live donor organs live longer and have a better quality of life.

Copyright 2012 ABC News Radio

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