Esther Aiolupotea, a 35-year-old Kalihi resident, was prepared to get a bone marrow transplant Monday for an aggressive form of leukemia when she was blindsided by news that her procedure was canceled as a result of the closure of the Hawaii Medical Centers.
"This is a matter of life -- my life was in (HMC's) hands," she said. "Now it's a waiting game. As I'm waiting I don't know what my body is going through."
Hundreds of patients with organ failure and a number of others with aggressive cancers in need of transplants are in limbo as Hawaii's medical providers scramble to get a new transplant center up and running.
HMC, which is closing the former St. Francis Medical Centers in Liliha and Ewa over the next few weeks, operates the only organ transplant center in the Pacific. The Transplant Institute of the Pacific shut down on Friday when HMC's Liliha hospital stopped admitting patients.
For some critical patients who were ready to get organ or bone marrow transplants within the next few weeks, the loss of the transplant center is a huge setback and potentially life-threatening.
"This is a crisis for our cancer patients who need bone marrow transplants," said William Loui, chief of oncology for the Queen's Medical Center and medical director for HMC's bone marrow transplant program. "They could die within weeks to a few months."
One Honolulu resident suffering from end-stage liver disease was transported over the weekend by air ambulance to a mainland institution, said Whitney Limm, Queen's vice president of clinical integration and HMC's kidney transplant director. Another patient is being prepared this week for possible transfer to the mainland while organs donated by a family last weekend were transported to the East Coast.
Queen's said Tuesday it has applied to create an organ transplant program in the wake of the pending closures. But it could take up to six months before it is operational, and Queen's has only committed to providing organ transplants, leaving patients waiting for bone marrow procedures no alternatives in Hawaii.
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