It was extraordinary enough that Methodist University Hospital in Memphis, Tennessee released a statement last night confirming that Apple CEO Steve Jobs had a liver transplant, and the circumstances surrounding how he secured the procedure.
So it was a little surprising - to say the least - that Dr. James Eason, who runs the hospital's transplantation unit, and led the team that operated on Jobs, met with local reporters in Memphis to offer more details in connection with the Jobs' procedure.
"Mr. Jobs is doing fine," the doctor said.
Dr. Eason's press conference today, and the statement released by the hospital last night, were designed to blunt mounting criticism that Jobs somehow received special consideration because of his wealth and influence.
Dr. Eason began his comments by talking about the success his hospital has enjoyed with various transplants, including livers. He was asked whether it was easier for someone with certain stature or income to get a transplant.
"All patients are referred to a transplant center" by their primary care physician, and Dr. Eason said recipients get the same level of "excellent care" no matter their socio-economic status. "Once they're referred here, they go through a complete evaluation" on their need and priority, and then they're placed on the waiting list, with their place determined by the MELD (Model for End-Stage Liver Disease) score. "Whoever's at the top of the list, they're there because they're the sickest," he says. "Waiting time isn't even a factor anymore. If someone's been on the list a long time, they're obviously healthy enough to have survived for a long time" and therefore by definition might not be the best candidate," he added.
"No person can be skipped over," says Dr. Eason.
A reporter asked about Tennessee's shorter wait list, and whether that increased Jobs' chances at a transplant. Dr. Eason said the facility is very aggressive and will provide a transplant to the best possible match, and the person most in need, whether they're a resident of the state or not. The facility is simply interested in getting the best care to the patients most in need, he said, and that means caring for individuals locally, regionally or nationally. "Thankfully, we're a 'mid-South program' which gives us the opportunity to provide transplants to the mid-South region" meaning the hospital can provide transplants to patients no matter where they're from, and receive organs from the five states making up the region.
Dr. Eason would not comment about where the donor came from.
He also absolutely refuted the idea that Jobs received any special treatment because of his notoriety or wealth.
"Every patient has the same opportunity to be listed on the center which they choose," Dr. Eason said. "Just as other patients may go out of their region for cancer care or other medical care, that's the wonderful thing about America is that we have a choice in our healthcare and patients go to the place they choose to."
Ethicists, including Kirk Hanson, executive director of Santa Clara University's Markkula Center for Applied Ethics, tells our NBC affiliate in San Jose, essentially don't hate the player, hate the game, that Jobs took advantage of a system that might have flaws, but that when it comes to a person's survival, don't begrudge them for doing what it takes to live.
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