Jesica Santillan (December 26, 1985 - February 22, 2003) was a Mexican national who entered the United States to obtain medical treatment, but died after an organ transplant operation in which she received the heart and lungs of a patient whose blood type did not match hers. Doctors at the Duke University Medical Center failed to check the compatibility before surgery began.
Santillan, whose blood was type O-positive, had a heart condition (restrictive cardiomyopathy and secondary nonreactive pulmonary hypertension), that resulted in reduced blood perfusion in her lungs. She had been hospitalized at Duke University Hospital in Durham, North Carolina. On February 7, 2003, she received the heart and lung transplant. The new organs had been flown in from Boston. She had a heart attack on February 10, and it became apparent that her antibodies were reacting to the new organs because the new organs carried blood from a type-A patient, not a type O-positive patient, as was required by Jesica's body. Jesica also suffered from kidney failure as a consequence of the tissue mismatch.
Santillan's family illegally entered the United States from Tamazula, Mexico, a town 275 miles west of Mexico City, so that she could receive medical treatment. Relatives have stated that the family paid a smuggler to get them across the border.
On February 20, Santillan received a new heart and set of lungs after a new donor was found late on February 19, 2003. On February 21, she was declared brain dead as her brain had swelled and was bleeding. The Santillan family had requested a second opinion but life support was discontinued on February 22, without honoring this request.
After Jesica's death, the Santillan family was approached by the hospital to determine if her salvageable organs could be donated for use in other transplant patients. On the advice of their attorneys, the Santillan family declined.
Dr. James Jaggers, the transplant surgeon, stated, "Unfortunately, in this case, human errors were made during the process. I hope that we, and others, can learn from this tragic mistake."