Woman infected with cancer from transplanted smoker's lungs inspires campaign

Jennifer worked for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust to help other patients with her condition Photo:

The family of an young woman who died of cancer after having the lungs of a heavy smoker transplanted has started a campaign to encourage healthy donors to come forward.

Jennifer Wederell died of lung cancer at the age of 27 after receiving a double lung transplant to treat cystic fibrosis.

It was only after she was diagnosed with cancer that she learned that her lungs had been donated by a middle-aged person with a 20-a-day smoking habit.

Now her relatives have started a campaign to improve the level of information given to transplant patients and to encourage healthy people to donate organs.

Jennifer's wedding photo

Jennifer Wederell was born with Cystic Fibrosis but was able to live a normal life until her early twenties, when her condition worsened.

In 2009, she was put on a waiting list to receive a double lung transplant. After waiting 18 months for a suitable donor, the transplant operation went ahead and was a great success.

In 2011, Jennifer married her boyfriend David after delaying the wedding until her health had improved.

But less than a year after the operation, Jennifer was diagnosed with lung cancer. It was at this point she learned that her lungs had been donated by a heavy smoker.

Jennifer passed away in August 2012.

Jennifer on her 21st birthday

Jennifer's husband believes she would not have gone ahead with the transplant if she had been told her donor was a smoker.

"They didn’t mention it. If they had, she would have said no," David said in an interview with the Sunday Telegraph.

“We also want people who have waited all their lives for a transplant to be given the full facts, and the choice that Jennifer never had,” said her father Colin Grannell.

Jennifer and David were engaged in July 2007

Jennifer's case highlights the chronic shortage of organ donors in the UK, and the growing use of "high risk" organs as a result.

Almost 40% of all lung transplants in the last three years have come from donors who were smokers, according to a parliamentary answer by the health minister Earl Howe.

During her life, Jennifer worked for the Cystic Fibrosis Trust helping patients to receive the level of care they need.

Her relatives say they were inspired by her fighting spirit to start their own campaign, called 'Jennifer's Choice', to improve transparency and encourage healthy people to consider donation.

Our aim is to make people aware of what a wonderful thing it is to help save someone’s life and give your organs a second life.

Think how amazing it would be for your lungs to enable someone to breathe or your eyes to allow someone to see again.

– Jennifer's Choice campaign
Jennifer in June 2006

In the majority of cases, people who are waiting for a lung transplant run a lower risk by accepting a smoker's lung than by choosing to wait for a non-smoker to come forward.

Under guidelines drawn up by NHS Blood and Transplant in March 2011, patients being offered a transplant should be told of the risks of a donated organ. The donor's smoking history must also be disclosed if the patient requests it.

At the time of Jennifer's transplant, in April 2011, these recommendations had not yet been implemented.

One of the things Jennifer's Choice is campaigning for is to make the guidelines part of standard procedure so they can be enforced.

For more information, or to consider donating organs yourself, follow these links: