Robert Stuart, 67, from Cardiff, and Darren Hughes, 42, of Bridgend, were given organs infected with meningitis-causing parasitic worms.
Two men died from a rare disease caused by a parasitic worm less than three weeks after receiving kidneys transplanted from a donor who had been living rough, was alcoholic and had cirrhosis, an inquest heard on Tuesday.
Postmortems later revealed that both had the parasitic worm Halicephalobus gingivalis, Cardiff coroner’s court heard. There have only been five known cases in the world involving humans, all fatal.
The men died of meningoencephalitis, infection of the brain, caused by the parasite. Relatives said they had been told that the donor’s organs had been rejected by several other hospitals after being deemed unfit for transplant.
The pathologist said swelling of the brain was caused by the number of worms in the organ and its response to the worms’ presence.
Because worms were present in the donor, he concluded the transplant was the cause of the infection and said the primary cause of death for both men was meningoencephalitis, a form of meningitis, and also from the presence of the worms.
This was the first known case of human-to-human infection and the first case in the UK.
Hughes’s father Ian, who signed the consent form for his disabled son, said, “Darren was not told he would be receiving an infected kidney. I now feel that I signed his death warrant. After he died we were told that the donor lived rough, was alcoholic, had cirrhosis of the liver and that they didn’t know the cause of the meningitis that killed him. We find it difficult to understand why the hospital in Cardiff used these kidneys. They had been rejected from all other hospitals all his other organs were considered unfit for transplant.”
The family were under the impression that the donor was a young man who had been killed in a car crash that day, he said.
Judith Stuart, the wife of Robert, said the couple had just returned from a cruise and were looking forward to the birth of their second grandchild after his transplant.
She said, “We weren’t told anything whatsoever about the donor or his lifestyle. I walked down with Jim and said goodbye at the theatre doors.”
The inquest heard no postmortem had been carried out on the donor before his organs were offered for transplant. They had been rejected by every hospital they had been offered to before they were accepted by the University of Wales hospital. The kidneys had been described in documents as poor function.
Both died from the same parasitic worm that had infected the donor within days of undergoing their kidney transplants, the inquest heard. The parasite lays eggs in the liver and kidneys and then travels to the brain.
Doctors were not aware the donor had the worm that lives in soil and is found in horses when the transplants were carried out. Hughes and Stuart began to deteriorate rapidly after their surgery and died less than three weeks later.