DURHAM, NC: French/West/Vaughan (FWV) is providing crisis communications counseling to Carolina Donor Services (CDS), a key player in the botched organ transplant that killed a 17-year-old girl in North Carolina last month.
CDS' role in the death of Jesica Santillan was put under a microscope in last week's edition of 60 Minutes. On the program, the organization's executive director Lloyd Jordan admitted that CDS personnel did not request Santillan's blood type prior to the operation.
But the piece did not explain that this kind of check falls outside the organization's responsibility, according to FWV's president and CEO Rick French.
"It was not CDS' role to back check against Duke's physicians to ensure that the blood type was compatible," he said.
To counter the torrent of negative newspaper stories triggered by the broadcast, FWV helped CDS craft a response that ran on PR Newswire, and was picked up by a number of news organizations. The response emphasized the fact that CDS relayed the donor's blood type to Duke on six different occasions.
"It is not the role of the intermediary to check the blood type of the recipient," French said. "CDS had no access to Jesica Santillan's medical records or the organ-donor match list."
60 Minutes stands by its reporting. "There's nothing more to say than Mr. Jordan said what he said, and we put it on the air," said Kevin Tedesco, a spokesman for the show.
Even before the broadcast, the FWV was working to establish CDS' role as a conduit between Duke University Medical Center and an organ-donor center in Boston.
As well as helping out with conveying a general message that organ donation is safe, the agency will continue to reach out to reporters on behalf of CDS. This will be especially important as investigations into the matter unfold and potential litigation arises.
"It's not about pointing fingers," French said. "It's to clarify who is responsible for doing what in the chain of custody for these organs."