HEALTH secretary Jeane Freeman has ordered an investigation after it emerged that an Ayrshire woman has developed terminal cancer from a donor kidney.

Pauline Hunt, from Kilmarnock, told the Sunday Post she has been left feeling suicidal after what should have been a life-changing organ transplant turned into a "death sentence".

The 49-year-old was diagnosed with cancer of the lymph nodes, an extremely aggressive form of the disease, within months of undergoing the kidney transplant at the Queen Elizabeth University Hospital in Glasgow in December 2017.

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The hospital and transplant authorities said all safety protocols had been followed.

It is believed that the cancer was able to spread particularly rapidly because she was on drugs to suppress her immune system and prevent organ rejection.

Doctors have told her she is too frail to even attempt chemotherapy.

Mrs Hunt said: "I was told a kidney transplant would give me a new lease of life. Instead it has given me a death sentence.

"I'm still in shock and I can't stop crying and worrying about how long I have left."

Mrs Hunt has since discovered that her donor was a 56-year-old woman who died after hospital treatment failed to stop a blood clot travelling to her brain.

Within days of her kidney transplant last December, Mrs Hunt also began suffering the same life-threatening blood clots and a potentially deadly sepsis infection. She now requires daily blood-thinning injections.

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In February this year, Mrs Hunt underwent emergency surgery to remove her donor kidney as a precaution after a man from Newcastle, who had received a donor liver from the same woman, developed cancer and died.

Tests subsequently revealed that the donor kidney had "introduced a malignancy" into Mrs Hunt's body which "has spread rapidly".

Mrs Hunt, who spent her career working as a carer for brain-injured patients, said: "I don't understand how the system failed to spot a cancer that is so aggressive.

"It spread very quickly through my abdomen and lymph nodes, helped along by the drugs I'd been given to suppress my immune system so the transplant wouldn't be rejected by my body.

"I've been told I'm too ill to even have chemotherapy. I've lost family members to cancer so I know what awaits me, so I've told the doctors I don't want to know exactly how long I've got."

She added: "I can't stop thinking about the poor man from Newcastle who has already died, and wonder whether there are any other poor patients and their families out there who have been given other organs or tissue from the same donor."

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As a result of losing the donor kidney, Mrs Hunt has had to return to gruelling rounds of dialysis three times a week for at least four hours at a time.

Mrs Hunt's husband, Gordon Hunt, said he regrets encouraging her to go through with the transplant last December.

He said: "On the day of the transplant Pauline told me she had a horrible feeling about the operation. She said she had this feeling of doom and it was so bad, she tried to pack her bag and go home.

"I can't get it out of my head that I persuaded her to stay and have the operation."

It is extremely rare for transplant patients to be infected with cancer by their new organs.

According to official figures, just 13 out of 30,765 UK transplant recipients developed donor-transmitted cancers between 2001 and 2010. Three died.

Even with rigorous checks however, there is a 0.06% chance of donors developing cancer from donor tissue that appeared safe.

The couple have hired lawyer Cameron Fyfe to investigate whether there are grounds for damages in relation to medical negligence.

John Forsythe, medical director for organ donation and transplantation at NHS Blood and Transplant said all processes had been followed correctly in the case.

He said: "For all potential donors we carefully check their medical history and carry out new tests: this includes blood tests, scans and imaging such as X-rays, physical examination of medical records."

A spokeswoman for NHS Greater Glasgow and Clyde said a full investigation had taken place and "found that the situation could not have been anticipated".

A Scottish Government spokesman said: "This is a very tragic case and our deepest sympathies go to Pauline and her family.

"Despite rigorous checks and tests on donated organs carried out by specialist medical staff, given the limited time available within which donation and transplantation must take place, it is unfortunately not possible to mitigate all risks that an infection could be transmitted.

"The Health Secretary is seeking to ensure that all appropriate investigations are carried out into the circumstances of Pauline's case so that any lessons that can be learned are determined, including from the review carried out by NHS Blood and Transplant."