New hearts pumping for first patients of revived transplant program at KU Hospital


Kyle Warren talks about his heart failure and his experience with the heart transplant team at the University of Kansas Medical Center. After more than two decades, KU has a heart transplant program.Shane Keyser and Donna McGuire The Kansas City Star

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As a young man lingered near death — his heart barely pumping, other organs also failing — about two dozen members of the University of Kansas Health System’s multidisciplinary team debated what to do.

Was he too sick for anything but palliative care? No one wanted to tell the 30-year-old patient that.

Should he be transferred to a more-seasoned heart program, one experienced in treating such high-risk patients? Perhaps.

Or should they take him into surgery, implant a device to help his heart pump blood, try to nurse him back to better health and then — likely many months in the future, if he survived — give him a new heart?

At that point, University of Kansas Hospital had implanted only one such device, and it went to a low-risk patient after careful planning. The hospital hadn’t transplanted a heart in more than two decades, after shuttering its first program when news leaked that it had been turning away hearts for months while still adding patients to its transplant waiting list.

Now, several years into its transplant restart effort, health system officials wanted every step to go right. Those gathered in the conference room discussing the high-risk patient knew his case could derail their momentum if things went badly. Continue reading