KU Hospital to resume heart transplants

Kansas University Hospital announced on Monday its intention to resume heart transplants, re-establishing a program that was shut down in 1995.

The move is sparked by a $1.5 million donation from Dr. William Reed, chairman of the hospital’s department of cardiovascular diseases, and his wife, Mary Reed.

“Today, we are unable to provide the full continuum of care for our patients,” said Bob Page, KU Hospital’s president and CEO, saying that 44 patients had to go to other programs last year because KU couldn’t perform heart transplants.

“It’s the natural evolution of our program,” he said. “It’s the logical next step for us.”

According to media reports, the hospital shut down its transplant program in 1995 after performing no transplants from May 1994 to March 1995 while turning away every donor heart. During that time, the hospital continued to admit patients to the program, but did not tell those patients the hospital wasn’t accepting new hearts. The program was shut down after internal and external investigations into the matter.

KU Hospital announced it was going to re-establish the program in 2000 after hiring several doctors from St. Luke’s Medical Center in Kansas City, Mo., to help with the effort. It resumed open-heart surgeries and expanded heart procedures and technology.

But, in 2003, it indefinitely postponed plans to resume transplants, citing the strength of its existing heart surgery program and its strained financial resources, according to reports from the time.

Since then, the hospital has enjoyed high levels of success, including record patient volume and increasing operating budgets, and it has overseen expansions and renovations to its facilities.

“We’re just a totally different organization today,” Page said. “There’s no comparison between who we are now and who we were in the mid-’90s.”

KU Hospital would become the second hospital in the Kansas City area to perform heart transplants, joining St. Luke’s. It would be the only such program in Kansas, a fact welcomed by other state hospital leaders.

“Flagship hospitals should provide flagship services,” said Dr. John Jeter, president and chief executive officer of Hays Medical Center, in a prepared statement. “Kansans need a Kansas solution to their health care problems.”

Reed, who was one of the doctors who came to KU Hospital from St. Luke’s to reinvigorate the program, said it was virtually nonexistent when he arrived. It didn’t have a cardiac surgeon on staff and had only a small handful of cardiologists.

Today, the program has about 40 physicians, he said, including three experienced cardiac surgeons.

“The last 10 or 11 years has been one of the most rewarding times in my career,” Reed said.

KU Hospital leaders said they thought the area could support two heart transplant programs, noting that the metropolitan areas in Milwaukee, Wis., and Indianapolis both have two heart transplant programs but have fewer people than the Kansas City metro area. Cleveland also has two programs and a metropolitan area just larger than Kansas City’s.

Page said KU Hospital already treats 4,200 congestive heart failure patients, the most likely group to need a heart transplant. About 60,000 adults in Kansas have been diagnosed with congestive heart failure.

Shelley Willis, a Princeton, Mo., resident who has been treated for congestive heart failure at KU Hospital, said an insurance change forced her to leave her care at the Mayo Clinic.

Willis, who has had four open-heart surgeries, continued her care at KU Hospital. She said that while she doesn’t need a transplant now, she was glad the hospital was going to offer the service.

“I’ve had nothing but good experiences there, so I wouldn’t have any reason to go anywhere else,” if her condition were to worsen, Willis said.

Page said that of the 65 donor hearts the region received last year, 34 were exported and 31 were transplanted. He said he didn’t have an estimate of how many transplants the hospital would perform annually, but he said the 34 hearts that left the region represented a good number to start thinking about.

“We’re not going into this to do a handful of transplants,” he said.

The hospital did not announce a timetable to begin the program because of a number of necessary steps that must be taken first, including approval from the United Network for Organ Sharing.