Donor Sandy Cabrera had died of a stroke the day before Liew received her kidney. It wasn't until an autopsy found the uterine cancer, days after her death, that it was known that she carried the disease. At that time, Liew's doctors doubted it could spread to him.
Seven months later, however, Liew was killed by cancer that his autopsy linked to the transplant. His death is believed to be the only reported instance of uterine cancer apparently being transmitted by transplant, medical experts say. It is also the subject of a medical malpractice trial in which closing arguments were scheduled for Thursday.
What is unclear is why the news of Cabrera's cancer took so long to reach Liew's New York City transplant surgeon, Dr. Thomas Diflo. Liew's transplant was Feb. 25, 2002; the news did not reach Diflo until April 17, 2002.
Kimberly Liew, his widow, is suing the transplant hospital, NYU Langone Medical Center, saying doctors there should have removed the kidney as soon as they learned of the donor's cancer. However, Diflo testified that he told Liew the safest route was to remove the kidney, although he did tell Liew the odds of developing the cancer were slim, as it was uterine cancer.
As such, Liew himself made the decision to keep the kidney. Tests given from May to August found no indication of cancer in the kidney. It was later that year, suffering from back pain, that Liew had Diflo remove the kidney, on Aug. 29, 2002. Once removed, it was apparent the kidney was laden with tumors; Liew died within a month.