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Teen's family grateful after 2nd transplant

Mother worries about future risk

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Mack Mahoney visits Jesica Santillan in the hospital after her second transplant operation.

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CNN's Elizabeth Cohen says Jessica Santilla's new heart and lungs are working, but her family is angry over the first transplant (February 20)
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'ABO' BLOOD TYPES
A simple blood test is performed to determine the correct blood type of a donor and recipient. Here's how your blood type should be compatible with your potential donor's blood type:

If you are blood type A, your donor should have blood type A or O

If you are blood type B, your donor should have blood type B or O

If you are blood type O, the donor must have blood type O (type O is called the "universal donor")

If you have blood type AB (the "universal acceptor"), your donor can have blood type AB, A, B or O

Source: The Cleveland Clinic

DURHAM, North Carolina (CNN) -- Jesica Santillan is in a pediatric intensive care unit, fighting to recover from her second heart-lung transplant surgery in two weeks because of a medical error.

The heart and lungs transplanted into Jesica were "working perfect" and there were "no signs of (organ) rejection," family spokesman Mack Mahoney said just after Thursday's operation at Duke University Hospital.

Jesica's mother, Magdalena Santillan, thanked the family of the donor in a news conference Thursday evening.

"She says she hopes to meet them someday so they can meet Jesica," the mother's translator said.

Dr. Duane Davis, surgical director of Duke's lung transplant program, said Jesica remained in critical condition and that it was too early to tell when she would be out of danger.

Jesica's mother is still worried about the risks her 17-year-old daughter still faces and the possible complications. She said doctors told her that because Jesica's body had rejected the first organs with the wrong blood type, it may also reject the new organs.

Magdalena said Jesica already looks a little better and said she talked to and touched her daughter after the procedure. Jesica is on dialysis and still intubated, she said.

Jesica needed the first transplant because of a heart deformity that kept her lungs from getting oxygen into her blood.

Mom says media helped save Jesica's life

She needed the second operation because in the first transplant February 7, Jesica was given a heart-lung set with type A blood that did not match her type O-positive blood. That caused her already weakened body to immediately reject the organs, pushing her to the brink of death.

Doctors had said the second surgery would give the Mexican girl a 50 percent chance of survival. Without it, Jesica would die, doctors had said.

Knowing that time was running out for the girl he calls "the world's sweetheart," Mahoney sprang into action to get the word out to the media that Jesica needed a matching donor.

People responded to organ banks with a barrage of offers to help. The prayers of Jesica's supporters were answered when a compatible heart-lung set became available early Thursday. Doctors told the elated family the organs "were an incredibly good match."

The donation was not a directed one, meaning the victim's family had not specified the organs be used for Jesica, a Carolina Donor Services spokesman said.

Jesica's mother profusely thanked the media for getting the word out.

"I now give thanks to everyone for their support in everything because I feel that if in this we hadn't had that support from you, from the TV, from radio and newspapers, they would not have paid much attention to us, they would have let my baby die," Magdalena said. "I've seen a lot of cases where they don't pay much attention to Latins."

"I am heartbroken about what happened to Jesica," said Dr. James Jaggers, who operated on her both times. "My focus has been on providing her with the heart and lungs she needs so she could lead a normal life."

Magdalena told reporters she was angry about the situation at first. Mahoney said she wanted the doctors to go to jail. But she said Thursday the doctors have now done everything they could to save her daughter.

Mahoney, who dubbed himself Jesica's godfather, set up a foundation in her behalf two and half years ago after reading a newspaper story about her need for a transplant.

He said that after the first transplant, he had to battle Duke Hospital's administration, which Mahoney said was "very hard to deal with" because it did not want unflattering publicity. That led Mahoney to hire a medical malpractice attorney.

"I hired him for my protection" because he understands medical terms and because Duke had legal representation.

After the first transplant surgery, the hospital administration tried to block Mahoney from seeing Jesica. It took the intervention of Sen. Elizabeth Dole to have that ban lifted, he said.

Mahoney indicated he needed to be at Jesica's bedside because her parents speak only Spanish.

Before the surgery, Magdalena said she said a lot of prayers and left Jesica in the hands of the saints.

"I was really nervous, but I had a lot of faith in God that everything was going to come out OK," she said.

After Jesica recuperates, Magdalena said, she plans to take her to visit several saints' shrines in Mexico.

More organs desperately needed

After the five-hour surgery Thursday, Jesica was well enough to be removed from all life support but she faces a number of obstacles before she can leave the hospital, said Dr. Dwayne Davis, one of Jesica's surgeons.

The surgeon said that 65 percent of heart-lung transplant patients survive for a year after surgery. It is still too early to predict if Jesica will recover, he said.

Dr. William Fulkerson, the chief executive officer of Duke University Hospital, said the transplant staff believed it was using matching organs at the time of the first operation, but "that was incorrect."

The hospital has launched an investigation and has implemented additional safeguards to prevent such errors in the future. For Thursday's surgery, Fulkerson said three physicians confirmed the type match before the transplant.

Anne Paschke, spokeswoman at United Network for Organ Sharing, said there are critical shortages of organ donors through the United States and finding a donor for a heart-lung procedure is an uphill battle.

UNOS administers the nation's only organ procurement and transplantation network.

Paschke said that according to the latest statistics, in 2001 and 2002 there were only 55 heart-lung transplants nationwide, and as of February 7, there were 197 people on the waiting list for the procedure.

Doctors on Thursday said nearly 80,000 people are currently on waiting lists for organs.

"(I) hope that we can use this event, as tragic as it has been, to re-emphasize the need for organ donations in the country," said Fulkerson.

CNN Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and Sr. Medical Producer Miriam Falco contributed to this report.


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