Campus Med Center Transplant Program Flatlines

    UCSD Medical Center voluntarily deactivated its heart transplant program and recently announced plans to pursue discussions with Sharp Memorial Hospital regarding a potential collaboration between the two centers’ programs.

    Will Parson/Guardian
    A nurse examines a patient’s electrocardiogram readings at UCSD Medical Center. The hospital recently deactivated its heart transplant program because of a decline in transplant procedures.

    The decision to shut down the transplant program comes after a steady decline in the number of patients requiring heart transplants at the UCSD Medical Center, which eventually failed to meet the minimum federal requirement for heart transplants. Programs must perform at least 12 transplants a year to receive federal reimbursement; however, UCSD performed only four such procedures last year.

    The university’s program will be suspended for the next 12 months, according to Alexander Aussi, the director of the UCSD transplant program.

    “”We will be using the time during our inactivation to re-evaluate our options and come up with long-term strategies to resuscitate our program,”” Aussi said.

    The medical center is considering one particular strategy that would involve a partnership with Sharp Memorial Hospital in Kearny Mesa.

    According to Aussi, collaboration with Sharp Memorial is a likely option. In the past, the UCSD Medical Center partnered with Sharp Memorial in its bone and marrow transplant program, which is currently a great success.

    Sharp Memorial is the only other medical center in San Diego County that performs heart transplants and, like UCSD, the hospital has fallen short of the minimum requirement of procedures for 2006.

    “”Both Sharp Memorial Hospital and UCSD Medical Center have a lower-than-ideal number of patients looking to receive heart transplants,”” Director of Health Sciences Research Communications Debra Kain said. “”By working together, we would very likely reach the federal requirement for heart transplants, which neither of our centers could do individually.””

    Kain said that, if approved, the program could have a distinct positive effect for San Diegans.

    “”If we combine our resources and our expertise with Sharp’s, we could do a great deal to benefit San Diego County,”” Kain said. “”However, we are still in the process of talking about the possibility of the merge and nothing is definite as of yet.””

    The decrease in patients undergoing heart transplants in San Diego County reflects a nationwide trend. In addition to the program at UCSD Medical Center, 37 other transplant units had performed fewer heart transplants than the minimum number required to receive federal reimbursement.

    According to Aussi, the decrease can be attributed, in part, to advances in pharmacology that prevent patients from ever needing to receive heart transplants in the first place.

    “”Patients are living longer because there are more medications, surgical therapies and treatments available to them,”” Aussi said. “”Heart transplants are our last resort for patients after all of our other methods have failed. The drop in heart transplants is very encouraging in a way, because it means that those methods have improved and we do not have to perform heart transplantation in most cases.””

    There are currently six low-priority patients at the UCSD Medical Center who are on the waiting list for heart transplants. The campus has already notified these patients regarding the program’s inactivation, and is helping them find alternative heart transplant programs, including Sharp Memorial’s.

    The deactivation of the heart transplant program will not impact the UCSD lung, heart-lung or liver transplant programs. In addition, the medical center remains committed to providing a full range of cardiovascular treatments and to advancing prevention, diagnosis and treatment of heart disease as well as clinical trials.

    Discussions between the top executives of Sharp Memorial Hospital and the UCSD Medical Center will continue for the next few weeks before a final decision about the possible collaboration is made.

    “”Not only would a partnership between UCSD Medical Center and Sharp Memorial benefit both heart transplant centers, but it would provide quality first-class programs that would do a great deal to help San Diego and the surrounding area,”” Aussi said.

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