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Shands organ transplant officials suspended

Shands HealthCare relieved two top organ transplant officials of their duties Thursday after determining that one of them had a substantial interest in a company that received human organs unsuitable for transplant.

Investigators determined that Jose A. Cardo, LifeQuest Organ Recovery Services' director, was involved in the Florida Research Foundation, which received 16 research organs from LifeQuest last year.

The foundation is operated out of Cardo's home and several of his relatives are company officials, said Paul Rosenberg, chief legal counsel for Shands HealthCare.

Charles McCluskey, LifeQuest's executive director, was removed because officials believe he had knowledge of Cardo's activities and did not report it.

Information on the case has been forwarded to the State Attorney's Office in Gainesville. The Florida Department of Law Enforcement is also looking into the conflict of interest.

Officials would not say if Cardo made a profit on the organs. Cardo could not be reached for comment.

McCluskey, contacted by telephone, said had no knowledge of Cardo's involvement.

"I have done nothing wrong. We feel the report is wrong," McCluskey said. "I did not know what he was up to."

Cardo and McCluskey are on administrative leave with pay at the University of Florida while it decides whether to fire them. The university provides LifeQuest's staffing and management.

The investigation began last month when officials learned of a possible conflict of interest and wanted to ensure that no organs suitable for transplant were sent to the research company.

Timothy Goldfarb, chief executive officer of Shands HealthCare, said the investigation found that no suitable organs were denied to patients awaiting a transplant.

"Families who made the organ donation gift of life can be confident that transplantable organs were used appropriately to help other people," he said.

Several changes in policies and procedures were made to more closely track the use of organs and the prevent future conflicts of interest, Goldfarb said.

LifeQuest is a Shands-based program that acquires and coordinates placement of donated organs for patients on waiting lists.

When a procured organ is deemed unsuitable for transplantation but appropriate for research, LifeQuest may send the organ to a university or other external organization for scientific use.