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Did medical error kill drug magnate?

Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.
The Florida Channel
Leon County Judge John Cooper on June 30, 2022, in a screen grab from The Florida Channel.

By Mary Jo Melone
10/16/2009 © Health News Florida 

Samuel Hamad, former president of a global pharmaceutical company and prominent Sarasota developer, died last December of “complications” following a liver transplant, according to his obituary.

But a lawsuit says the complication was really a medical error that resulted in a deadly infection. The complaint says Hamad suffered a gruesome death, including bleeding from the eyes and ears.

If the allegations are true, it shows that medical errors can harm even a former titan of the medical industry – someone who had money, knowledge and connections. It reinforces lessons from the 1999 Institute of Medicine report To Err Is Human, which estimated that at least 44,000 Americans died each year because of medical errors caused by systems failures. A follow-up report this year found few of the report's recommendations had been implemented.

“One decade later, we can’t say whether we are any better off today than when the IOM first sounded the alarm…, “ said Arthur Levin, director of the Center for Medical Consumers, when the update was released.
Hamad contracted cytomegalovirus, a type of herpes infection, from the donated liver, the suit says. He died at age 66, less than four months after undergoing the transplant at Shands Hospital in Gainesville.

His son Michael has sued Tampa’s LifeLink Foundation, which provided the organ, and the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), a transplant information clearinghouse in Virginia.

LifeLink declined comment. UNOS spokesman Joel Newman said, “We are working with counsel for the various parties to clarify our role and requirements.”

Death from cytomegalovirus (CMV) is extremely rare. According to UNOS, there have been only 15 deaths nationwide in the last ten years.

Before transplantation, organs are routinely tested for infectious agents, including two types of CMV antibodies. In this case, according to the suit, the liver was reported as negative for both even though only one test report had come back. The second report, which had a positive result, came in days after the transplant and was overlooked, the suit says.

Apparently neither LifeLink nor UNOS knew about the second report, the suit says. It was discovered three months after the transplant, in mid-October, when doctors at Shands checked the donor records, trying to determine why he was so sick.

“All systems were infected,” said his family’s attorney, William E. Partridge.

Antiviral medications didn’t work, and Hamad suffered “multisystem organ failure,” according to the suit. When he died Dec. 15, the cause was listed as CMV.

He had needed the transplant because his liver was badly damaged by both hepatitis C and cancer, which was in remission.

“Was he dying at the time? No,” said Partridge. “But was he in need of a liver? Yes.”

Hamad’s case was what doctors call a “mismatch,” in which the donor has prior evidence of CMV infection and the recipient does not.

A mismatch is not uncommon, according to Dr. Michael Keating, chair of the division of infectious diseases and associate professor of medicine at the Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville.

It doesn’t mean the transplant has to be canceled, Keating said; instead, transplant centers provide preventive treatment beginning right after the operation and continue for 90 days.

Hamad was the former president of International Bristol-Myers Squibb Co. until 1998, when he retired at age 55. He then established Enterprise Associates of Sarasota, which developed high-end commercial and residential properties.

He served on the boards of The University Club, Sabal Palm Bank and the New College Foundation. 

--Mary Jo Melone, a free-lance writer in Tampa, can be reached through e-mail