St. Luke’s to Suspend Heart Transplants After Recent Deaths

PROPUBLICA | Charles Ornstein, ProPublica, and Mike Hixenbaugh, Houston Chronicle

The move comes two weeks after ProPublica and the Houston Chronicle reported on pervasive problems in the historic heart program.

This article was produced in collaboration with the Houston Chronicle.

Update, June 1, 2018: This story has been updated throughout.

Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center in Houston temporarily suspended its renowned heart transplant program on Friday following two deaths in recent weeks, saying it needs to reassess what went wrong and determine the path forward.

The decision to put the program on a 14-day inactive status — meaning it will turn away all donor hearts during that time — came about two weeks after ProPublica and the Houston Chronicle reported that in recent years the program has performed an outsized number of transplants resulting in deaths and lost several top physicians.

Colleagues had raised concerns to hospital leaders about the program’s direction under Dr. Jeffrey Morgan, its surgical director since 2016. A second surgeon, Dr. Masahiro Ono, left for another job this week. Neither Morgan nor Ono responded to requests for comment.

“We greatly respect and value the trust patients and their families have placed in us over the years, and believe this temporary pause will serve their best interests,” Doug Lawson, CEO of Catholic Health Initiatives Texas Division, which owns St. Luke’s, said in a written statement Friday afternoon. “Although extensive reviews are conducted on each unsuccessful transplant, the recent patient outcomes deserve an in-depth review before we move forward with the program. Our prayers are with the families, as well as all those on the waiting list.”

For weeks, officials at St. Luke’s and its affiliated Baylor College of Medicine have defended the program, saying they had made improvements after a string of patient deaths in 2015. Officials said the program’s one-year survival rate after heart transplants had reached 94 percent in 2016 and 2017 under Morgan’s leadership. Continue reading