Ceiling drips described in transplant suit documents

Gwendolyn Houston-Johnson and husband Terrence Johnson are shown

Gwendolyn Houston-Johnson and husband Terrence Johnson are shown in their Queens Village home. Gwendolyn donated a kidney to Terrence and claims it was accidentally contaminated during surgery. (Sept. 20, 2013) (Credit: Jeremy Bales)

Documents about a possible safety breach at North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset state an unidentified fluid dripped more than once from an operating room ceiling, including onto a kidney that surgeons were preparing to transplant three years ago.

The hospital denies that a fluid of any kind leaked in one of its operating rooms.

Two separate reports by the same surgeon indicate a fluid fell not only on the newly harvested kidney, which was referenced in the surgeon's discharge report of the patient, but also dripped onto the doctor's visor, according to a second form, dated and signed by the physician.


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Both documents were reported by Dr. Ernesto Molmenti, who heads the hospital's kidney transplant program. The second report, like the first, indicates the drip occurred as the organ from a living donor was being prepared for transplantation.

The documents are written on North Shore letterhead.

"A large drop of fluid fell from the ceiling of the operating room, grazing the protective visor shield of my mask and falling on top of the procured kidney," Molmenti wrote.

That quote, from Molmenti's surgical report, was electronically signed two days after the transplant in March 2011. The discharge report, also indicating a faulty ceiling, was electronically signed two months later.

Stephen Civardi, the Freeport lawyer representing Terrence and Gwendolyn Johnson, the Queens couple involved in the transplant, said the unidentified fluid dripped later on the day of the transplant.

That drip, Civardi said, occurred during a hospital maintenance inspection. Civardi is basing that claim on a deposition delivered under oath in State Supreme Court by a North Shore employee.

Although Molmenti's written report indicates a large fluid leakage, Civardi said, his more recent court deposition described it as a mere droplet -- condensation.

The Johnsons are suing North Shore for negligence, contending the fluid contaminated the organ and damaged its viability. Terrence Johnson remains in end-stage kidney failure. Gwendolyn Johnson donated the kidney to her husband on March 28, 2011.

Hospital executives say the ceiling in its second-floor operating room never posed a hazard.

"There has never been any incident of environmental contamination from any foreign liquid or material as is being alleged in this lawsuit," Terry Lynam, a North Shore vice president, said in a statement last year.

The hospital's fledgling kidney transplant program is a little more than 6 years old and has performed about 150 transplants.

Patient safety violations must be reported to the State Health Department. North Shore never reported anything because the hospital contends a leak never occurred.

Department spokesman James O'Hare said there is no statute of limitations on reporting hospital patient-safety issues, even if the concern is more than a year old.

Anne Pashcke, spokeswoman for the United Network for Organ Sharing -- UNOS -- the nonprofit that oversees transplant centers for the federal government, said certain patient-safety issues are reportable to UNOS. These include whether a donor's organ fails.

Gwendolyn Johnson's organ was washed and flushed with antibiotics and did not properly function once transplanted, according to hospital documents.

The Johnsons said they were told by the transplant team the languid organ "had gone to sleep."

Doctors had deemed the kidney robust and healthy before the transplant and encouraged both operations, the couple said.

Problems have occurred at hospitals elsewhere involving kidney operations. Penalties have ranged from sanctioning doctors to temporarily halting surgeries.

A doctor at The Mount Sinai Hospital in Manhattan last year accidentally removed the wrong kidney from a patient and was temporarily relieved of clinical and administrative duties. A botched living donor transplant in 2011 at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center resulted in a two-month shutdown of the transplant program as well as state and federal investigations.

The donor had transmitted hepatitis C to the recipient, an infection that should have been identified before the dual surgeries, health authorities said.

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