On March 7, 2016, doctors at the Cleveland Clinic introduced the nation to Lindsey McFarland, the first person to undergo a successful uterus transplant in the United States. Within hours, however, McFarland was back in surgery: A life-threatening infection forced the organ’s removal, crushing hope she might one day give birth.
McFarland later learned that the culprit was Candida albicans, a fungus common in women’s reproductive tracts. In her, it flared into a raging infection that damaged at least two of her arteries, including one that supplied blood to the newly implanted uterus.
What she didn’t know was that the transplanted uterus had come from a donor suffering from a Candida infection in her bladder.
“No one reported the bladder infection to us,” said a Cleveland Clinic official who spoke on the condition of anonymity because he was not authorized to talk about the case. “We would have treated it and acted differently.”
The alleged missteps that preceded McFarland’s failed transplant — which have not been previously disclosed — illustrate what critics say is a lack of public accountability in the U.S. transplant system that undermines patient safety.
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