Weather Updates

Woman files lawsuit charging transplanted organ was cancerous

Updated: August 12, 2012 6:30AM

It was supposed to be a life-changing organ transplant.

But the pancreas given to patient Rashia Wimley at the University of Chicago Medical Center in the summer of 2008 was cancerous, a lawsuit filed Monday alleges.

Now Wimley, 39, says she’s been diagnosed with cancer as a result.

Her lawsuit alleges the doctor who performed the transplant, the University of Chicago and the Gift of Hope Organ and Tissue Donor Network all acted carelessly and negligently by giving her the diseased organ.

The lawsuit doesn’t say why Wimley needed the transplant, and her attorney, Bryan Hofeld, declined to comment on the case, but pancreas transplants are typically given to patients with severe diabetes.

Dr. Michael Millis is the director of the University of Chicago Medicine’s Transplant Center, but he did not perform the transplant. He declined to speak specifically about the case. He acknowledged that cancer is a “known risk of organ transplantation,” but said that organ donors are screened for disease. “The chance of developing cancer after a transplant is very small, and the benefits of organ transplantation to the recipient, who typically has a life-threatening disease or condition, far outweigh such risk,” he added.

While transplants do increase the risk of developing cancer, a 2002 study found that such cases are extremely rare. Just 21 out of more than 108,000 organ transplants over a seven-year period caused cancer in recipients, according to Ann Paschke of the United Network for Organ Sharing.

Gift of Hope vice president of operations Alison Smith said that every effort is made to screen out diseased organs. Donors are screened for communicable diseases including HIV and hepatitis, medical records are vigilantly scrutinized and next of kin are interviewed about family histories, Smith said.

But medical staff often don’t have much time to act before a donor dies and testing for cancer is inconclusive, Smith added.

Notwithstanding the inherent risks, “When an individual donates an organ it’s an amazing thing that is worthy of everyone’s consideration,” she said.

© 2014 Sun-Times Media, LLC. All rights reserved. This material may not be copied or distributed without permission. For more information about reprints and permissions, visit To order a reprint of this article, click here.