A potential kidney transplant that hit a snag because of a fundraising effort might move forward anyway, according to the director of Maine Medical Center’s transplant program.

“We’re not viewing this as a deal breaker,” Dr. John Vella said Thursday about concerns that the donation would be derailed by a GoFundMe campaign that raised nearly $50,000 to help support the family of a Windham man who agreed to give his kidney to a South Portland woman.

Josh Dall-Leighton, the potential donor, hopes he can complete the donation to Christine Royles, who is on dialysis.

“My decision (to donate) has never wavered,” Dall-Leighton said. “At the end of the day it’s about Christine and saving her life, and that’s what I focus on.”

Royles and Dall-Leighton have said the transplant was tentatively scheduled for May 19, but another development Thursday cast doubt that the procedure would occur as soon as they anticipated.

Royles, 24, had an appointment with her doctor and was told she needs to get healthier before a transplant can occur.

“My phosphorus is too high … my white blood count is too low,” Royles said Thursday night. “I’m sad, but I guess, what can you do.”

Royles is scheduled to see her doctor again April 29. In the meantime, she is hoping the situation with Dall-Leighton will be resolved so he can be her donor when she’s ready.

“I’m hoping everything works out,” she said.

UNINTENDED EFFECTS OF GENEROSITY

Experts say Maine Medical Center must be sure that donations raised on the GoFundMe website by a friend of Dall-Leighton would not run afoul of national and international laws designed to prevent the sale of organs. Vella, the director of the Maine Transplant Program, said the case is “unprecedented,” and Maine Med is working with legal experts to see what can be done to resolve the issue.

Vella said he’s certain that Dall-Leighton did not intend to profit from the organ donation, but that the hospital has never seen so much money raised to defray costs.

“Clearly, this was an altruistic offer (by Dall-Leighton),” Vella said at a news conference where he noted that the additional funds are merely an unintended consequence of well-meaning people.

Nonprofit groups, such as the American Living Donor Organ Fund, often help cover out-of-pocket costs for living donors.

Fundraisers often are held to help alleviate the costs associated with organ donation, such as missed work, baby-sitting or transportation. Those expenses typically average about $6,000, leaving the question of what should be done with the rest of the money raised online.

Vella said the legal ramifications of the fundraising are unclear, but the hospital hopes to soon have an answer on whether the organ donation can go forward.

Dall-Leighton, a 30-year-old father of three young children, agreed to donate his kidney after his wife saw a plea that Royles had painted on the rear window of her car asking for a donation.

Dall-Leighton’s donation offer attracted media attention that helped the GoFundMe campaign take off.

Vella said Dall-Leighton still needs to be evaluated more before he can be approved to be a donor, regardless of the financial issues.

“He is closer to the beginning of the process than the end,” Vella said.

He said it’s frustrating that despite everyone’s best intentions, a potential donation could hit such a snag, especially when organ donations are in such great need.

“This is a wonderful statement of support from our community for both this potential donor and recipient,” Vella said.

Dall-Leighton, a corrections officer, said the hospital’s public statements Thursday contradicted a private meeting he previously had with hospital officials.

“I felt attacked (that day). It kind of feels like they’re backtracking,” he said. “But if it gets Christine the help she needs, that’s good enough for me.”

Dall-Leighton maintains that the hospital should not decide where the extra money from the fundraising campaign goes.

“The money was given to us for a reason, and given to us to decide what happens to it. I think it should be decided by my family and not by anyone else,” he said.

His wife, Ashley Dall-Leighton, said they have access to the GoFundMe money but don’t plan to touch it until the issues surrounding the transplant are resolved. They haven’t firmed up plans on how they would use it, but intend to step up their donations to nonprofits.

“Never once were we like ‘Hey, let’s take a vacation,’ ” she said. “Our full intention was to donate to a kidney organization and to the NICU (neonatal intensive care unit), something near and dear to our hearts.”

The couple’s twins were helped by the neonatal unit at Maine Med when they were born.

DONATION LAW MAY NEED AN UPDATE

When the fundraising issue became public Wednesday, Dr. Arthur Caplan, a professor of bioethics at the New York University School of Medicine, said a hospital should ensure that no one profits from a kidney donation, and that the institution and the donor are not violating the law and ethics standards.

Vella said how Maine Med handles the situation may set a national precedent and lead to policy changes on how hospitals coordinate live organ donations. When asked whether, in the future, the hospital could set up a fund to defray expenses for donors, Vella said it would be something to consider.

He said it may simply be a case of the law not keeping up with changing times. The law that prohibits profiting from organ donations was approved in 1984.

“The authors of the (National Organ Transplant Act) couldn’t have foreseen today’s circumstances. Social media didn’t exist,” Vella said.


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