Detroit Free Press
Published 7:37 AM EST Nov 26, 2018
A hospital system based in Grand Rapids, Mich., has denied a heart transplant to an ailing 60-year-old woman, recommending that she first try to fund raise $10,000 on her own.
In a Nov. 20 letter that has since gone viral on social media, a nurse with Spectrum Health's Heart & Lung Specialized Care Clinics told the patient a heart transplant committee determined she isn't currently eligible for the transplant because she needs more secure financing for the expensive immunosuppresive drugs necessary to keep her body from rejecting the new organ.
"The committee is recommending a fundraising effort of $10,000," the nurse wrote.
The patient, Hedda Martin of Grand Rapids, reportedly posted Spectrum's rejection letter on her personal Facebook page.
The letter spread on social media over the weekend, including shares by prominent incoming U.S. Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, D-New York, an advocate of single-payer health insurance, who confused Spectrum with an insurance company in her tweet.
Other commentators on Twitter likened the health system's transplant committee to a "death panel."
A Spectrum representative was not available Sunday for an interview, but the health system issued a general statement about the situation on its website, noting they don't comment on specific cases to protect privacy.
"While it is always upsetting when we cannot provide a transplant, we have an obligation to ensure that transplants are successful and that donor organs will remain viable," the statement said. "We thoughtfully review candidates for heart and lung transplant procedures with care and compassion, and these are often highly complex, difficult decisions. While our primary focus is the medical needs of the patient, the fact is that transplants require lifelong care and immunosuppression drugs, and therefore costs are sometimes a regrettable and unavoidable factor in the decision making process."
The page says Martin has life-threatening congestive heart failure as a result of damage to her heart from 2005 chemotherapy for breast cancer.
She has been unable to work since 2017 and needs a ventricular assist pump implanted in her body as a "bridge" until she can get a new heart.
"The heart transplant team met and decide that mom needed to fund-raise $10,000 to be considered for a new heart," the son wrote. "The transplant team does not want to 'waste' a vital organ if she cannot afford heart rejection drugs."
Neither Martin nor her son could be reached for comment Sunday.
Mlive reported that a Facebook post on Martin's Facebook page – since taken down –said that Spectrum wanted to make sure that she could pay the $700 monthly cost of the anti-rejection drugs, considering that her health insurance plan has a $4,500 yearly deductible.
Martin's insurance would presumably cover the full cost of the drugs once she meets that deductible.