A patient living in fear of having contracted HIV after receiving a heart transplanted from an HIV-positive donor in August last year has sued doctors from two hospitals involved in the case.
The National Cheng Kung University Hospital (NCKUH) heart transplant patient sued doctors from the hospital and from National Taiwan University Hospital (NTUH) for mistakenly transplanting the HIV-positive organ from a donor in Hsinchu.
The patient is one of five organ transplant patients who were accidentally given the heart, liver, lung or kidneys of an HIV-positive donor through NTUH.
Although, the patient’s life was saved by the heart transplant, it has affected the recipient’s feelings and marriage and “it will not be easy for the person to get over this,” said Lee Po-chang (李伯璋), a surgeon at NCKUH.
In addition, the patient has not decided whether he or she will continue with HIV drug therapy, Lee added.
Prosecutors have not yet brought the case to court and are perhaps waiting for opinions from experts at the Department of Health, Lee said.
NTUH is considering compensating the patients by supplying and paying for HIV/AIDS drug therapy, which costs more than NT$22,000 per month, said Chu Hsin-cheng (鄒欣正), director of the hospital’s public affairs department.
The four other patients have decided to continue taking medication, said Hung Chien-ching, a doctor at the NTUH’s Department of Internal Medicine, who is also an expert on AIDS.
Health officials announced earlier in the day that the patients can decide whether they want to continue or terminate anti-HIV drug treatment.
Although one patient’s HIV antibody dilution test counts remain stable, while those of the other four patients have decreased, this is not enough to prove conclusively that the patients have not contracted the virus, Hung said.
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) are set to perform virus counts in lymph cells, which is a more accurate way of testing for the presence of HIV, Hung added.
Meanwhile, in a separate interview, CDC Deputy Director-General Chou Jih-haw (周志浩) said that a health department task force decided after the mistake was discovered that the five patients should receive preventive HIV medication for at least 12 months, and undergo 18 months of observation before deciding whether to continue drug therapy.
It has been difficult to determine whether the patients had been infected as they have been receiving both anti-HIV and anti-rejection drugs at the same time, said Chen Chang-hsun (陳昶勳), the head of the center’s third division.
There have been no similar cases in the past and as long as the patients continue to use the anti-HIV drugs, it will be difficult to determine whether they have been infected, Chen said.
While one HIV-positive patient has lived for 27 years on anti-virus medication, the drugs used in the therapy can be hepatotoxic — placing stress on the kidneys — and organ transplant patients may need time to adapt, Chen said.
Should a patient decide to discontinue medication, it would take about six months to determine whether he or she has been infected, he added.