Wife's agony as husband dies during 'safe' procedure to donate liver to brother-in-law who passed away less than a year later
23:16 GMT, 10 April 2012
When Paul Hawks discovered on Thanksgiving Day that his brother-in-law was so seriously ill he would die if he didn’t receive a new liver he offered to donate his own without hesitation.
Less than six months later – on his wife Lorraine’s 57th birthday – Hawks set off for the liver transplant surgery in Massachusetts with his brother-in law Tim Wilson and Lorraine’s sister Susie Wilson.
Surgeons had assured Lorraine Hawks that her husband, a healthy 56-year-old, would be safe donating 60% of his liver and she concentrated her prayers on her brother-in-law as both men went into surgery.
Devastated: Lorraine Hawks lost her husband, Paul, after he died donating his liver to his brother-in-law
But Hawks died on the operating table that day and Tim Wilson died aged 58 less than a year after successfully receiving the transplant.
Two years later and Lorraine Hawks, a school bus aide for children with special needs in Tampa, Florida, is still searching for definitive answers as to why her husband died.
'We walked into the hospital a married couple, and I left the hospital at the end of the day as they loaded my husband onto the coroner's truck,' Hawks told CNN.
Critical: Tim Wilson, who was critically ill with a liver disease, successfully received the transplant from his brother-in-law but died less than a year later
She has hired a lawyer and plans to file a lawsuit against the hospital – Lahey Clinic in Burlington, Massachusetts.
Hawks remembers back to Thanksgiving 2009 when her husband immediately volunteered to donate part of his liver to save the life of his brother in law.
'I want everyone to know what a generous, wonderful man Paul was. When he found out Tim needed a liver, he didn't hesitate to say yes,' she told CNN.
'They weren't blood relatives, but they were a perfect match, and he felt privileged that God was going to let him help Tim regain his health.'
Sacrifice: Doctors assured Lorraine Hawks that her husband Paul, a healthy 56-year-old, would be safe donating 60% of his liver
The odds were in Hawks' favour to walk out of the surgery absolutely fine; more than 4,500 people in the United States in the past 25 years have donated a section of their liver while still alive. Since 1999 three of those donors have died.
Six hours after Mr Hawks went into the operating theatre doctors emerged to break the news that there had been complications and that after a two and a half hour battle they had been unable to save him.
His wife was crying so hard she couldn’t absorb what the doctor, who performed the operation, was telling her.
'I saw her mouth moving, but I couldn't hear what she was saying. My brain was on fire,' she recalled to CNN.
She stayed with her husband’s body until the coroners came to take him away.
Error: An inspection revealed that the Lahey hospital in Massachusetts violated several federal rules for informing and protecting donors
Two months later Hawks received a nine-page report from the Massachusetts Department of Public Health of what had happened during her husband’s surgery.
The document detailed how, four hours into the operation, Hawks started bleeding from several areas and suffered a cardiac arrest.
But the report raised more questions than it did answers and Hawks still does not know exactly why her husband died.
However, the report did tell her that her husband had been given a pre-operative EKG which was abnormal.
'If I had known, I never would have let him have the surgery,' she said.
Constantly wondering what she would have done differently Hawks knows she would have taken time off work to travel to Boston with her husband for his pre-operative testing.
'God, how I regret that,' she says. 'I would have asked a million questions.'
An inspection seven months after her husband's death revealed that the hospital violated several federal rules for informing and protecting donors.
One of the couple’s two grown sons, Gene, wishes that his father had got a second opinion on whether to have the surgery from a doctor who didn’t stand to financially gain from the transplant.