Tuesday, July 03, 2001

Hospital heart program on hold

By Tim Bonfield
The Cincinnati Enquirer

        Surgeons will not resume performing heart transplants at University Hospital until sometime this fall, at least three months longer than initially anticipated.

        In February, hospital administrators announced that Cincinnati's only heart transplant program would be suspended for three to four months so construction crews could renovate a post-transplant intensive care unit that had been contaminated with a common, sometimes dangerous fungus.

  Some forms of Aspergillis fungus, found in University Hospital rooms used by transplant patients, can lead to dangerous infections in people with suppressed immune systems. Doctors said the species detected at UC was not dangerous, but caution prevailed.
        The renovations are complete, but the program still lacks a surgical director to perform the operations. A letter sent last week to insurance companies and patients on waiting lists states that job candidates will be interviewed beginning this month and transplants may resume this fall.

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

        Normally, the UC program performs about 20 heart transplants a year. It performed 17 in 2000, but only four so far this year.

        Since the program was suspended, two patients went to Cleveland Clinic to receive transplants. Four others have transferred to other programs. As of Monday, 17 patients remained on University Hospital's heart transplant waiting list.

        Part of the program's problem has been related to Aspergillis fungus found during routine renovations in rooms normally used by transplant patients.

        The other part of the problem: personnel.

        Earlier this year, Dr. Tom Ivey, chairman of a group of doctors who performed heart transplants and other cardiac surgeries at UC, decided to move his practice to Christ Hospital, which does not have the necessary permits to perform heart transplants.

        Dr. Ivey has not been replaced but a new chairman of surgery at UC, Dr. Jeffrey Matthews, started his job this week. Among his first tasks will be bringing in the people needed to restart the heart transplant program.


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