Liver Transplant Malpractice Injury Lawsuits. The lawyers at our firm are offering free consultations to patients and their families who may have suffered life-threatening injuries as a result of liver transplants at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center (UPMC). A November 2008 report in The Wall Street Journal raised serious questions about the liver transplantation program at UPMC. At least one liver transplant surgeon there may have employed questionable practices when it came to choosing livers and transplant recipients for the program. There is also evidence that complication rates for liver transplants at UPMC were downplayed.
Our UPMC liver transplant injury lawyers believe there is evidence that the medical center put profits above patient care in the running of its liver transplantation program.
According to The Wall Street Journal, UPMC’s liver transplant program produced $130 million of revenue in its latest fiscal year. The UPMC liver transplant injury lawyers at our firm believe that in order to protect that revenue stream, the medical center’s administration turned a blind eye to the unethical and questionable practices employed by one surgeon. The administration allowed this conduct to continue simply because the doctor in question had increased the number of lucrative liver transplants being performed at UPMC.
If you or someone you loved suffered as a result of substandard care and unethical practices at UPMC, you may be entitled to compensation. We urge you to contact one of our UPMC liver transplant injury lawyers right away to protect your legal rights.
Allegations Detailed by The Wall Street Journal
In the 1980’s, UPMC was one of the pioneers in liver transplantation. Headed up by the preeminent liver transplant surgeon, Dr. Thomas Starzl – the first doctor to successfully transplant a liver- UPMC quickly turned Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania into the country’s premier center for liver transplantation. According to The Wall Street Journal, at its peak in the mid-1980s, the UMPC liver transplantation program was performing about 600 liver transplants a year.
Dr. Starzl stopped doing surgeries in 1991, and over the next decade, more and more medical centers started their own liver transplant programs. With competition increasing, the number of liver transplants performed by UPMC in 2001 had dropped to 137, according to The Wall Street Journal. The medical center began to search for a way to restore its market share.
In 2002, UPMC hired Dr. Amadeo Marcos, who promised to double the number of liver transplants performed at the hospital. According to The Wall Street Journal, Dr. Marcos did what he promised to do. But many of his colleagues were disturbed at his tactics for doing so.
At least one veteran surgeon at UPMC told The Wall Street Journal that he had concerns with Dr. Marcos’ methods. Dr. John Fung, who headed the transplant program at the hospital, said he went to UPMC administration about his concerns regarding Dr. Marcos. But in 2004, Dr. Fung left UPMC, after becoming “increasingly uncomfortable” with the UPMC transplant program’s “relentless pursuit of volume and revenue”, the Journal said.
Selection of Livers, Recipients Questioned
According to The Wall Street Journal, when Dr. Marcos was hired by UPMC, he was paid $500,000 per year, as well as additional “incentives”. The UPMC liver transplant injury lawyers at our firm are investigating allegations that these incentives unduly influenced the way livers and transplant recipients were evaluated by Dr. Marcos. Evidence is emerging that the doctor may have chosen both unsuitable livers and patients in order to increase profits at UPMC.
Under Dr. Marcos, UPMC’s liver transplant business exploded. According to The Wall Street Journal, in his first full year at UPMC, the procedures more than doubled. But as the Journal reported, some of Dr. Marcos’ colleagues were uncomfortable with the way he achieved that milestone.
One of the ways that Dr. Marcos upped the number of transplants being done at UPMC was to expand the criteria for both recipients and donor livers. According to The Wall Street Journal, before Dr. Marcos joined UPMC, the average age of its deceased liver donors was 41. By 2003, it was 47, or nine years above the national average. What’s more, the Journal reported, while UPMC had used only 10 livers a year from donors older than 65 in 2000 and 2001, that number had jumped to 45 in 2003.
Colleagues of Dr. Marcos also told The Wall Street Journal that he approved patients for liver transplants that would likely have been rejected before he came to the program. For instance, Dr. Marcos would allow patients in early stages of liver failure to receive transplants, even though the risks of the procedures often outweigh the benefits for such patients.
Those interviewed by The Wall Street Journal describe transplant patients dying on the operating table and in the ICU for the “first time in years.” Often, these patients had been relatively healthy when they walked into UPMC, but suffered because they were transplanted with high-risk livers. Sometimes, the interviewees alleged, some patients who received liver transplants didn’t even need them.
According to The Wall Street Journal, statistics back up those claims. Data from the Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients show that during Dr. Marcos’ time at UPMC, 30 liver recipients died within two days of surgery. That was a death rate of 2.4%, versus a national average of 1.6%, the Journal said.
According to The Wall Street Journal, when patients are screened for liver transplantation, they are ranked by how advanced their disease is. Based on a series of blood tests called MELD, scores range from 40 for the sickest to six for the healthiest. If a patient’s score is below 14, it is generally thought that liver transplant risks outweigh the benefits, the Journal said.
However, while Dr. Marcos was at UPMC, it performed 441 liver transplants on patients with scores of 14 or lower. According to The Wall Street Journal, that was 35% of the liver transplants performed while Dr. Marcos was at UPMC, and compares with fewer than 7% in the 2½ years before he arrived.
Complication Rates Misstated
The methods employed by Dr. Marcos were also disturbing to Dr. Starzl, the liver transplant pioneer whose hard work had made UPMC the preeminent center for liver transplantation. According to The Wall Street Journal, Dr. Starzl was suspicious of the low complication rates Dr. Marcos reported in relation to a procedure known as living-donor transplant. According to the Journal, Dr. Marcos had written that UPMC’s rate of serious complications from the living-donor transplant was zero for donors and 34% among a subset of recipients.
An analysis Dr. Starzl did of 121 of Dr. Marcos’ living donor patients found different numbers, according to The Wall Street Journal. In reality, the complication rate was double what Dr. Marcos claimed. According to the Starzl analysis, 60% of the recipients suffered life-threatening complications, ranging from bile-duct leaks to blood-supply problems.
Dr. Starzl brought his concerns to UPMC administration, but after six months of inaction, he sent his findings to a medical journal. According to The Wall Street Journal, UPMC blocked the publication, saying Dr. Starzl hadn’t received patient authorization to collect the data. In the end, Dr. Starzl agreed to wait for the completion of a peer-reviewed internal study. According to The Wall Street Journal, that review would ultimately vindicate Dr. Starzl’s findings.
According to The Wall Street Journal, UPMC asked Dr. Marcos to resign in March 2008 for what it referred to as a violation of its code of conduct. UPMC claims the dismissal had “nothing to do with patient care or surgical issues,” the Journal said.
Legal Help for Victims of UPMC Liver Transplant Malpractice Injury Lawsuits
If you or someone you love received a liver transplant from UPMC and were a victim of substandard care and unethical conduct, you have valuable legal rights. Please fill out our online form, or call 1-800 YOURLAWYER (1-800-968-7529) to discuss your case with an experienced UPMC liver transplant injury lawyer at our firm.