The University of California San Francisco (UCSF) Medical Center announced on Thursday, Dec. 17, that it has decided to voluntarily suspend its living donor program for kidney transplant after the unexplained death of a donor.

Steven Katznelson, from California Pacific Medical Center's kidney transplantation program, described the incident as a nightmare scenario albeit he acknowledged the risks involved in such organ donation operations. The likelihood of a kidney donor dying after surgery is around .03 percent, or three deaths in 10,000 cases.

While most recipients of kidney transplant receive the organ from deceased donors, those who receive kidney from living donors tend to have better outcomes.

The donor died in November but UCSF said that the cause of the death has not yet been determined and is currently under investigation. The patient on the receiving end of the organ transplant though appeared to be in sound health and continues to have a functioning transplant.

Health experts have cited several potential reasons for the death, which include surgical complications and preexisting health conditions that may have gone undetected prior to the surgery. 

Following the reported death, the Organ Procurement and Transplant Network recommended the suspension of the program while investigations are being conducted. The hospital likewise notified the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) about the death and provided the current findings of the investigation.

As per common practice when the donor died in early post-operative period, UNOS asked for voluntary suspension of the hospital's living donor kidney program.

Given that only 150 of 350 transplants are made from living donors, the suspension is not expected to impact the region the same way a complete program suspension would. Nonetheless, officials of the hospital said they were saddened by the incident.

"The safety and well-being of our patients is our top priority, and every effort is being made to understand what happened. We are deeply saddened by this tragic event," officials of the hospital said.

The University of California is the largest kidney transplant center in the U.S. It is also the most successful, having performed 10,000 kidney transplants since 1964.

It isn't the first time a problem with organ transplantation has occurred. The Gulf Coast Medical Center in Fort Myers, Florida, for instance, was placed on probation earlier this month following the death of a man who was donating kidney to his father in April. The 40-year-old man died of excessive bleeding.

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