Jim Kuhn, a West Palm heart patient who had three U.S. senators fighting to get him a heart pump, died Tuesday without getting the device that his cardiologists say he needed to keep him alive.
He was 53.
The news was announced by his brother, Fred, and confirmed by his doctor, Steven Borzak.
Kuhn, a Boynton Beach resident who had been a truck driver during his healthy days, had been in the JFK Medical Center in West Palm Beach since January, struggling with congestive heart failure and severe infections. His parents, Marilyn and Donald, who live on Florida’s Gulf Coast, had been at his side for months.
Borzak, an Atlantis cardiologist, and his partners had been battling to get Kuhn a Left Ventricular Assist Device (LVAD), a $90,000 heart pump made famous when former vice president Dick Cheney received one as a temporary device before he received a heart transplant.
Doctors approached four hospitals that implanted the device, including Jackson Memorial and University of Florida’s Shands, about doing the procedure, but they refused. Borzak and the Kuhn family said it was because Kuhn had fallen into a rare situation with Medicare: He had run out of hospital days and the federal insurance for the elderly and disabled, wouldn’t pay for additional care until he was out of the hospital for at least 60 straight days.
The hospitals refused to comment directly about Kuhn’s case because of patient privacy laws.
Staff members for Sen. Marco Rubio, one of three senators who tried to help Kuhn, said that in July, Jackson Chief Executive Carlos Migoya told Rubio that a panel of doctors had reviewed Kuhn’s case and decided he didn’t qualify medically for an LVAD.
After repeated inquiries from the senators and a reporter, doctors at Shands and Jackson reconsidered their decisions, Borzak said, but Kuhn’s condition was declining. In late July, he was placed on a ventilator and his condition worsened so that he was no longer a good candidate for the procedure.
In an Aug. 1 Herald story, Borzak said that if a hospital had implanted the device earlier, Kuhn might have been on the road to recovery: “The biggest culprit is the black Medicare hole that he fell in.”
On Wednesday, Fred Kuhn said the family had been through a “devastating” experience because of the Medicare problems. “While we were all fighting to get a hospital to open its doors, untangling the red tape of Medicare and reaching out to any political official who would listen, his heart slowly lost strength until it finally stopped beating.”
Rubio’s staff pursued the case vigorously, enlisting the help of two other senators, Bill Nelson of Florida, a Democrat, and Orrin Hatch of Utah, the ranking Republican on the Finance Committee. “What is upsetting to me is that all of the parties involved seemed to have gotten to ‘no’ pretty quickly,” Rubio said in a statement last month. “No one was working on how to get to ’yes’ for Mr. Kuhn... He was caught in an inflexible, bureaucratic system that didn’t take into account that he’s a patient, not merely a number.”
Kuhn died at 6:25 p.m. Tuesday, his brother reported.
In addition to his parents and brother, Kuhn is survived by sisters Nancy Parker, Donna Evans and Kathie Murphy.