Teen's donated organs kill recipients

March 31, 2008 4:37:43 PM PDT
It is one of the saddest most bizarre stories that has come along in awhile. A 15-year-boy apparently died of meningitis and his organs were donated. But then, the parents of Alex Koehne discovered that he did not die of meningitis, but of a rare form of brain cancer. Now, two of the organ recipients have died and two others have cancer.

Long Island reporter Emily Smith has the story.

Lisa and Jim Koehne say it is hard to tell the story of their son, Alex. He died just weeks after coming down with a sudden high fever and excruciating backache. But telling the story of what happened after their son's death is what is haunting them now.

"It was like him dying all over again," Lisa said.

The Koehne's donated Alex's organs to help save as many lives as possible. They say doctors at Stony Brook Hospital said their son died as a result of bacterial meningitis, a swelling of the brain, and that his organs could safely be given to donors.

So they were.

But four weeks later, the Koehne's got the autopsy results and some news they never expected.

"'We are very sorry for your loss,'" Lisa said.

"Your son actually died of brain cancer," Jim said. "A very rare form of brain cancer, not bacterial meningitis."

"The first thing I said was what about the recipients, what about them?" Lisa said. "It's the only thing I could thing of. They were like, oh, they're doing fine."

Just two months ago, the Koehne's learned two adults have died from their son's diseased organs of the same rare cancer. And now, two others are on chemotherapy.

Stony Brook University Medical Center said, in a statement, that this is a tragedy, and, "Every matter that involves organ donations or transplantation is handled according to the guidelines of United Network for Organ Sharing and are used by all hospitals in the United States."

The New York State Department of Health said, in a statement, "We did a thorough investigation, and found standards were met by Stony Brook and there were no deficiencies."

The Koehne's say they don't know who is to blame, but know something wasn't done right. They are agonizing over the fact that five families are now suffering from what was supposed to be the gift of life from their teenage son.