Muskaan Hussain is caught somewhere between processing the grief of losing her father, and searching for answers about the fungal infection that took his life.
- Muhammad Hussain contracted an infection after his surgery in Brisbane’s Prince Charles Hospital
- Five heart transplants patients from the hospital fell ill from fungal infections, including two who have since died
- The health minister said the transplant unit had been deep cleaned and is “absolutely safe”
“We feel his loss so deeply, every single day, [in] everything that we do,” she said.
“I feel like I still have a lot of unanswered questions.”
Her father, Muhammad Hussain – a GP and skin cancer specialist – contracted the infection after receiving a heart transplant in Brisbane’s Prince Charles Hospital in May 2023.
Despite a lengthy and “rigorous antifungal and antibiotic treatment”, the 55-year-old died on September 20 this year.
Six weeks later, his family found out that several other heart transplants patients at the hospital had also fallen ill from fungal infections – however, there were a number of different strains.
“We were contacted by a doctor at The Prince Charles Hospital hours before it was revealed in the media,” Ms Hussain said.
“Why weren’t patients told immediately? Why weren’t families notified earlier?”
“What safeguards did they have in place to prevent something like this from happening?”
Health minister backs transplant unit
In total, five patients who underwent heart transplants at the hospital had also fallen ill from fungal infections — two, including Mr Hussain, have died.
The fungal infections are of four different strains.
Some possible fungal contamination, that was detected on transplant equipment at Prince Charles Hospital late last month, has been linked to one of those strains.
It has not been linked to either of the deaths, although two clinical reviews are underway.
Health Minister Shannon Fentiman told Queensland parliament that the transplant unit is “absolutely safe”.
“The hard-working clinicians at the unit have done everything they can. They’ve done a deep clean; it is safe,” she said.
“They are working with those families.”
She also offered her “deepest and most sincere condolences” to the families of the patients who died, apologising to those who say they learned of fungal presence via the media.
“The head of the transplant unit assured me that he had spoken directly to every patient, and if that has not happened then I want to again sincerely apologise to those families that it’s not good enough,” she said.
‘These are real people’
Ms Hussain said the apology has done little to comfort her family.
“This has affected five families very deeply. These were real people,” she said.
“My father was a well-loved GP, loved by hundreds of his patients, loved what he did.
“We really need him in our lives, but what’s happened has happened.
“It’s not supposed to be easy but … finding out what has been going on at the hospital [with other patients being infected] … it’s been quite shocking.”
Chief Health Officer John Gerrard said the situation was “complex”, but that fungal infection cases “do occur from time to time” within transplant units at hospitals.
“A source may be identified, or it’s quite possible it will never be identified and that we will not see further cases,” he said.
“It may just be an abnormal statistical variation or it may be that there was a common source.
“We can’t say with confidence they are linked.”
Clinical reviews underway, programs paused
Metro North Health, which encompasses The Prince Charles Hospital, said the clinical reviews were in the early stages.
It has also confirmed that late last month, the hospital detected some possible contamination in the area where it stored equipment used to retrieve donor hearts and lungs.
Metro North Health chief operating officer, Jane Hancock, said in a statement the programs were paused “out of caution” to assess the situation and order replacement equipment.
She said transplant patients are some of “our most vulnerable patients” and can be susceptible to various illnesses and infections in the community, especially once they return home.
“No surgeries were cancelled or rescheduled during this period”, she said.
“Both services (lung and heart transplants) are fully functional with appropriate precautions in place to ensure the wellbeing of these vulnerable patients.
“We want patients to know we have taken all precautions to keep them safe in the community. Any patient with concerns is encouraged to contact their transplant coordinator.”
The three other transplant patients who contracted fungal infections remain in the care of the hospital.
Two of them are recovering at home, while the third is in hospital with an unrelated clinical issue.