COPY-Family Files Lawsuit Against Baylor University Medical Center - KLTV.com - Tyler, Longview, Jacksonville |ETX News

2/28/06/Gilmer

COPY-Family Files Lawsuit Against Baylor University Medical Center

It was something that had never happened before... three people, including an East Texan, died after receiving organs from a donor who had rabies.

Eighteen year old Joshua Hightower of Gilmer had gotten the donor's kidney back in 2004. A few months after the transplant he died.

Tuesday, his family filed a lawsuit against the hospital and doctors who performed the transplant. The family is asking for changes in testing so this doesn't happen again.

"Everything we went through for all these years, just for it to end like that," says Jennifer Hightower, Joshua's mother.

The family of Joshua Hightower thought he was getting a second chance at life. Joshua's mother still remembers the call. "She said we have a kidney available if he wants it. I said yes he wants it, yes he wants it. We don't have a lot of time on this I need you to call me back in 15 minutes," says Jennifer.

But during that phone call, Jennifer Hightower says they were never told the kidney her son would get was from a high risk donor.

"Josh was not dying. Had they told us it was high risk, no. Joshua would have said no," says Jennifer.

Less than two months after the transplant at Baylor University Medical Center, Joshua died from rabies. Now, the family wants changes in the way organ donors are screened.

"We made it clear from the beginning that any settlement would have to do with a change in policy and procedure of transplants. In other words, we would not just take money and go away," says Robert Bennett, Hightower's attorney.

Pam Sivestri with Southwest Transplant Alliance says 6 tests are done on the organs as well as a social and medical background check. They do not test for rabies because the test takes several days to get the results. Sivestri says they have less than 12 hours to test, then match the organs to a recipient.

However, the family says it should have been caught somehow. Jennifer says with Joshua gone, there's a hole in her life that will never be filled. Something she hopes will never happen to anyone else with a change in the donor screening process.

We did contact Baylor University Medical Center and they say extend their sympathy to the family. However, federal law prohibits them from going into details about the patient's care. They go on to say, they plan to vigorously defend themselves in a lawsuit.

Karolyn Davis, reporting. kdavis@kltv.com

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