Memorial Regional Hospital in Hollywood won federal approval Thursday to begin performing adult heart transplants as soon as this summer, making it the first healthcare facility in Broward County to offer the life-saving procedure.
The new program will give patients living in Broward and Palm Beach counties a closer option than Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami-Dade, where surgeons with the Miami Transplant Institute have been performing organ transplants since 1970.
Enrique Gongora, a cardiac surgeon who will lead Memorial’s new program, said heart transplant rates in South Florida are among the lowest in the state, with many local patients traveling to Tampa, Orlando, Jacksonville or out of state for the procedure.
“The community has been under served in the past years,” Gongora said. “We need to have a better understanding that this service is available, and be able to funnel patients that require these services to centers that are able to provide that care.’’
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The adult heart transplant program will be part of the Memorial Cardiac and Vascular Institute, where surgeons with Memorial’s Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital have performed 14 heart transplants on children since about 2010, Gongora said.
Adult heart transplants will be performed in the same operating room, using the same nursing and technical staff, as the pediatric program.
Memorial won approval to proceed with the adult heart transplant program from United Network for Organ Sharing, a nonprofit group that oversees organ allocation and transplant programs under a contract with the federal government.
The UNOS approval still requires Memorial Regional surgeons to successfully complete a mock transplant of an adult heart on April 16 before the hospital can begin listing transplant candidates on an UNOS register that matches them with organ donors.
Gongora said the average wait for a heart transplant is about 4 1/2 months.
Once Memorial’s cardiology team begins performing heart transplants, Gongora said, physicians must monitor those patients for one year after surgery — and demonstrate that patient outcomes meet or exceed national rates — before winning final approval from the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services.
Ioana Dumitru, a heart failure and transplant cardiologist, will be in charge of heart transplant patient care before and after the procedure.
More so than patients of other surgical procedures, transplant patients require intensive pre-operative testing, preparation and follow-up care.
The national survival rate for heart transplants is about 90 percent at one year after surgery, Gongora said, with the survival rate dropping to about 75 percent after five years.
While Memorial Regional is likely to become the first hospital in Broward to perform an adult heart transplant because of its recent UNOS approval, it will not be the only healthcare facility in the county to do so.
In August 2012, the state’s Agency for Health Care Administration approved the largest expansion in decades of transplant services in South Florida, setting the stage for adult heart transplants at Memorial Regional, kidney transplants at Broward Health Medical Center in Fort Lauderdale and heart, liver and kidney transplants at Cleveland Clinic Florida in Weston.
Broward Health and Cleveland Clinic have yet to announce next steps for their transplant program expansions, though Broward Health has reported performing more than 190 liver transplants since February 2004.
According to Cleveland Clinic Florida’s website, South Florida patients need more local options for solid organ transplants, with approximately 15 percent of patients traveling out of the area for liver transplants, 23 percent for kidney transplants and 33 percent for heart transplants.
Jackson’s Miami Transplant Institute has dominated adult transplant surgeries for decades in South Florida and throughout the state. In 2013, Jackson ranked fifth in the nation for transplant procedures, performing 460 in total, including kidney, liver, lung, pancreas, heart, lung and intestine transplants.
Other Florida hospitals performing large numbers of organ transplants in 2013 include Mayo Clinic Florida in Jacksonville (378), Tampa General Hospital (367) and Florida Hospital Medical Center in Orlando (238).