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$6 Million Settlement for Infected Kidney Transplant

A transplant patient who contracted bacterial meningitis from an infected kidney -- which went untreated for weeks and resulted in brain damage -- will receive a $6 million settlement from Rush University Medical Center.

Lauro Ortiz, a diabetic born with one kidney, needed another kidney to free himself from dialysis. When word came Dec. 17, 2005, that a kidney was available, Ortiz (39 at the time) was on the operating table within 12 hours and discharged five days later, according to Ortiz's attorney, Kevin Burke.

But there was a problem for the Southwest Side resident: His new kidney had a fungal infection known as Cryptococcus neoformans.

When the organization that provided the kidney, Gift of Hope, realized the kidney was infected it phoned and faxed Rush on Dec. 26 to inform physicians. Results from a separate test conducted by the hospital a day later came back with the same results, Burke said.

But for an unknown reason, the results were overlooked and Ortiz, complaining of dizziness, went back to the hospital Jan. 13.

On Jan. 19, hospital officials put the pieces together and realized the infection had spread to his brain, Burke said.

"They could have been treating him for this infection from Dec. 26 on preventing the spread of disease to the brain", Burke said. "Why didn't they? That's the part that no one really knows. Why didn't you look at this piece of paper? They thought he was having a side effect to other drugs.

"This was clearly something that could have been prevented. Rush had two separate lab reports confirming the presence of an infection.

"Lauro's injuries were the result of a lack of communication rather than a lack of knowledge," Burke said.

A Rush spokesman said the hospital doesn't comment on "cases that have gone through our mediation program."

Ortiz, who worked as a machinist before the operation, lives on the near West Side with his mother -- and though he's off dialysis, he suffers a host of cognitive problems, including memory loss.

"I don't care how much money they give me," Ortiz said. "I'm not going to be the same person I was. I can't play ball no more -- softball or basketball. I miss driving a car. I can't ride a bicycle. I can't enjoy myself the way I want to."

Hector Ortiz, Lauro's brother, hopes for the best: "I pray he gets better. I know he's my brother -- but at the same time, he's not my brother. He goes in for a kidney transplant and ends up with brain injuries."