Friday, February 23, 2001

Heart transplant program might stop

By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        The Health Alliance of Greater Cincinnati is scheduled to announce today a significant change in the Tristate's only adult heart transplant program.

        Health Alliance officials would not discuss details Thursday. However, sources say heart transplants at University Hospital will be halted, at least temporarily.

        “I can't say anything today. We would like to tell heart transplant patients first what's going to happen,” said Health Alliance spokeswoman Amy Bomar.

    About 150 heart transplant programs nationwide perform a total of about 2,300 heart transplants a year, according to the American Heart Association. In 1999, 700 people died while on waiting lists.
    However, many more people with heart disease never get on waiting lists. The heart association estimates 20,000 to 40,000 people could benefit from a heart transplant if organs were available.
        About 20 members of the Change of Hearts support group for heart transplant patients have been invited to an 11 a.m. meeting at the hospital, where Health Alliance officials plan to make an announcement. Some members of Change of Hearts expect to be told that University Hospital's program will be stopped.

        “That's the rumor that's out there,” said Don Burke, a heart transplant recipient who serves as chaplain of a support group for people with heart transplants.

        If University Hospital plans to discontinue heart transplants, it would need to notify the LifeCenter, the agency that coordinates organ donations in Greater Cincinnati.

        LifeCenter has indeed received a notice that involves University Hospital, but spokesman Jeff Leuders said it was up to the hospital to announce the details.

        University Hospital's heart transplant program started in 1985. Since then, surgeons there have performed more than 300 heart transplants.

        Heart transplant programs are among the most prestigious high-tech services in all of medicine. Even a temporary halt in the program would be a blow to the image of a medical center.

        More importantly, however, changes in the program would affect about two dozen Cincinnati-area people on a waiting list for a heart transplant.

        As of Jan. 26, there were 28 people on the local waiting list, Mr. Leuders said. That list includes mostly adults to be treated at University Hospital and a few children, who can get transplants at Children's Hospital Medical Center.

        Some of the people on the list spend weeks, even months in intensive care while waiting. Others are in poor health but are stable enough to stay at home.

        Dr. Donald Harrison, senior vice president and provost for health affairs at the University of Cincinnati Medical Center, also would not discuss the fate of the heart transplant program.

        “I can't tell you anything right now,” Dr. Harrison said.

        If heart transplants cannot be performed in Cincinnati, patients would have to get surgery at other centers when and if donated organs become available. The closest other heart transplant programs are in Columbus, Cleveland, Louisville and Indianapolis.

        Mr. Burke said he doubts that Cincinnati would go very long without a heart transplant service.

        “If they're not going to do it at University Hospital, I can't help but believe that one of the other hospitals in town would pick it up,” he said.


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