A Houston hospital announced Friday that it has reactivated its renowned heart transplant program after a two-week suspension of all medical procedures following the deaths this year of several patients.
Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center's decision to temporarily halt its program came after a series of joint reports by the Houston Chronicle and ProPublica revealing the departure of several top physicians and an unusually high number of patient deaths in recent years.
In a statement, the hospital said a review of two recent patient deaths didn't identify systemic problems with the program.
"We are confident that the program is ready to move forward and to serve the critically ill patients and their families who have placed their trust in us," Doug Lawson, CEO of Catholic Health Initiatives Texas Division, which owns St. Luke's, said in a video posted by the hospital.
The hospital said it has made several changes, including reorganizing the transplant surgery team and expanding the role of Dr. Gabriel Loor, who is co-chief of adult cardiac surgery and surgical director of the lung transplant program.
Other changes include refining how patients are selected for the program and reorganizing the multidisciplinary approach to patient care.
Also, a special committee has been set up to study other changes that could be made to improve the heart transplant program and to ensure that the hospital transparently communicates with patients and their families, according to the statement.
"Baylor St. Luke's believes strongly that improvement is a never-ending process," Dr. Paul Klotman, president and CEO of Baylor College of Medicine, said in a statement. "Although this voluntary pause in the program is complete, we will continue to recruit additional surgical and clinical expertise, refine procedures and practices, and implement improvements as soon as we identify opportunities."
The hospital said it is notifying the more than 60 patients who are on a donor waiting list that the heart transplant program has resumed.
The program is one of the nation's most respected. It was at St. Luke's that famed surgeon Denton Cooley performed some of the world's first heart transplants back in the 1960s.
But staffers have recently raised concerns to hospital leaders about the program's direction.
Some St. Luke's cardiologists grew so troubled by the program's direction in 2016 that they referred some patients to other hospitals for transplants.
Officials at St. Luke's and its affiliated Baylor College of Medicine have vigorously defended the program, saying they 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.
But of nine patients who received heart transplants at St. Luke's since the start of 2018, at least three have died, according to the Chronicle and ProPublica. Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center said that two of the deaths warranted review during the two-week suspension.