PORTLAND, Ore. — The only hospital in Oregon that does heart transplants is suspending its program for 14 days because of a shortage of doctors qualified to do the specialized surgery.
The move leaves more than two dozen patients to decide whether to wait out the temporary shut-down or seek care at another medical center, a newspaper reported Tuesday.
For people like 47-year-old Jake Akin, who are waiting for a heart transplant, it was frustrating.
Oregon Health & Science University in Portland made the decision to temporarily freeze its program after three cardiologists on the transplant team left or announced plans to leave, The Oregonian/OregonLive reported .
OHSU won't evaluate new patients for a transplant, accept donor hearts or perform any transplant surgeries for two weeks.
Cardiac patients who don't need transplants can still be treated at OHSU, including for such procedures as pacemaker implantation, said Renee Edwards, chief medical officer for OHSU Healthcare. The transplant team is also adequately staffed to follow up with anyone who's recently received a new heart, she said.
During this 14-day period, Edwards said, administrators will focus on recruiting transplantation and heart failure specialists to run the program, including in surgery and post-operative care. The suspension could extend beyond two weeks, Edwards said.
"It was not an easy decision to make as the only heart transplant center in Oregon. We feel a tremendous amount of responsibility," Edwards told the newspaper.
"If a longer suspension of transplant services is needed, OHSU will immediately inform patients and the community," an OHSU spokesperson told KGW.
Edwards said the departures on the heart transplant team were primarily for career and family reasons. Two will stay on at OHSU until the end of September.
When executives learned of the pending changes Friday, they made the decision to suspend the program, which has run for 32 years, out of concern that patients who undergo surgery wouldn't have someone to guide their care afterward, the newspaper reported.
Eighteen heart transplants were done at OHSU in 2016 and 30 more were completed at OHSU in 2017, according to federal data.
"The inactivation immediately impacts 20 patients on our wait list and four candidates for transplant who are being evaluated. It also impacts 327 post-transplant patients who are in various timeframes of post-transplant care," OHSU told KGW.
For those on the transplant list, the news is devastating.
Dianna Howell, 58, of Albany, was diagnosed with heart failure in 2016 after passing out at work. She has been on the heart transplant list for 13 months and was told when she was placed on it that she had about 18 months to live.
"It was a transplant or hospice," she said.
Howell learned Friday at her monthly appointment that her doctor, Dr. Jonathan Davis, was leaving the program, and two others are also leaving.
On Saturday, they got a call from Dr. James Mudd, another physician on the OHSU transplant team, who said the entire program was being put on hold.
For Howell, that means starting over with transplant programs in Seattle or the San Francisco Bay Area.
She wonders whether she will live long enough to get established in the other programs.
"I just want OHSU to fix this. This is a wonderful program with great stats and really good doctors," she said.
KGW staff contributed to this article.