Home Heart Transplant St. Luke's in Houston to suspend heart transplants after recent deaths

St. Luke's in Houston to suspend heart transplants after recent deaths

24 min read

Mike Hixenbaugh/Houston Chronicle, Charles Ornstein/ProPublica

Updated 3:32 pm, Friday, June 1, 2018


Photo: Katie Campbell, ProPublica

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Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center is pictured.

Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center is pictured.

Photo: Katie Campbell, ProPublica


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Judy Kveton holds a photo of her husband, David. He died of complications from a heart transplant at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center.

Judy Kveton holds a photo of her husband, David. He died of complications from a heart transplant at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center.

Photo: Elizabeth Conley


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A photo of David Kveton sits on the nightstand next to his widow's bed at their home in Fort Bend County, Texas.

A photo of David Kveton sits on the nightstand next to his widow's bed at their home in Fort Bend County, Texas.

Photo: Elizabeth Conley/Houston Chronicle


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About two months after David Kveton's death, his wife, Judy Kveton, received an anonymous letter stating that there were problems with David's heart transplant at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center.

About two months after David Kveton's death, his wife, Judy Kveton, received an anonymous letter stating that there were problems with David's heart transplant at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center.

Photo: Elizabeth Conley/Houston Chronicle


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About two months after David Kveton's death, his wife, Judy Kveton, received an anonymous letter stating there were problems with his heart transplant at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center.

About two months after David Kveton's death, his wife, Judy Kveton, received an anonymous letter stating there were problems with his heart transplant at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center.

Photo: Elizabeth Conley


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About two months after David Kveton's death, his wife, Judy Kveton, received an anonymous letter stating that there were problems with David's heart transplant at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center.

About two months after David Kveton's death, his wife, Judy Kveton, received an anonymous letter stating that there were problems with David's heart transplant at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center.

Photo: Elizabeth Conley/Houston Chronicle


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Brad Kveton pauses as he talks about his dad, David, who died of complications after a heart transplant at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center.

Brad Kveton pauses as he talks about his dad, David, who died of complications after a heart transplant at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center.

Photo: Elizabeth Conley/Houston Chronicle


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Judy Kveton talks about her husband, David, who died of complications from a heart transplant at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center.

Judy Kveton talks about her husband, David, who died of complications from a heart transplant at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center.

Photo: Elizabeth Conley/Houston Chronicle


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Judy Kveton looks over bills from her husband's time in the hospital in their home in Fort Bend County, Texas.

Judy Kveton looks over bills from her husband's time in the hospital in their home in Fort Bend County, Texas.

Photo: Elizabeth Conley/Houston Chronicle


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Lazerick Eskridge suffered severe complications after his heart transplant last year at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center.

Lazerick Eskridge suffered severe complications after his heart transplant last year at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center.

Photo: Elizabeth Conley


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Roseanna McLaren's mother, Muta Melton, died in 2015 following a heart transplant at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center.

Roseanna McLaren's mother, Muta Melton, died in 2015 following a heart transplant at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center.

Photo: Elizabeth Conley/Houston Chronicle


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Roseanna McLaren looks through photo albums in her home, in Alvin. Roseanna McLaren's mother, Muta Melton, died in 2015 following a heart transplant at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center.

Roseanna McLaren looks through photo albums in her home, in Alvin. Roseanna McLaren's mother, Muta Melton, died in 2015 following a heart transplant at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center.

Photo: Elizabeth Conley


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Muta Melton died in 2015 after receiving a heart transplant at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center.

Muta Melton died in 2015 after receiving a heart transplant at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center.

Photo: Elizabeth Conley


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Dr. Jeffrey Morgan took over as director of the heart transplant program at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center in 2016.

Dr. Jeffrey Morgan took over as director of the heart transplant program at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center in 2016.

Photo: Elizabeth Conley


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Dr. Billy Cohn holds an artificial heart while while visiting the office of Dr. O.H. "Bud" Frazier at St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital Jan. 9, 2013.

Dr. Billy Cohn holds an artificial heart while while visiting the office of Dr. O.H. "Bud" Frazier at St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital Jan. 9, 2013.

Photo: Mayra Beltran


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Dr. Todd Rosengart is the chair of surgery at Baylor College of Medicine. He played a leading role in hiring Dr. Jeffery Morgan.

Dr. Todd Rosengart is the chair of surgery at Baylor College of Medicine. He played a leading role in hiring Dr. Jeffery Morgan.

Photo: St. Luke S Episcopal Hospital


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Dr. Hari Mallidi is the former director of the heart and lung transplant programs at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center. He left the program in 2015.

Dr. Hari Mallidi is the former director of the heart and lung transplant programs at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center. He left the program in 2015.

Photo: Courtesy Of Texas Heart Institute


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Dr. Roberta Bogaev

Dr. Roberta Bogaev


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A 1972 photograph of Texas Heart Institute and St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital.

A 1972 photograph of Texas Heart Institute and St. Luke's Episcopal Hospital.

Photo: File


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Regina Tran takes a moment while reflecting on the memory of her brother, Travis Hogan, who died in 2016 after being removed from the heart transplant waiting list at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center.

Regina Tran takes a moment while reflecting on the memory of her brother, Travis Hogan, who died in 2016 after being removed from the heart transplant waiting list at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center.

Photo: Elizabeth Conley/Houston Chronicle


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Regina Tran holds a photo of her brother, Travis Hogan, who died in 2016 after being removed from the heart transplant waiting list at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center.

Regina Tran holds a photo of her brother, Travis Hogan, who died in 2016 after being removed from the heart transplant waiting list at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center.

Photo: Elizabeth Conley/Houston Chronicle


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Regina Tran holds a photo of her brother, Travis Hogan, who died in 2016 after being removed from the heart transplant waiting list at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center.

Regina Tran holds a photo of her brother, Travis Hogan, who died in 2016 after being removed from the heart transplant waiting list at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center.

Photo: Elizabeth Conley/Houston Chronicle


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Regina now collects random feathers that fall into her life in memory of her brother, Travis Hogan, who died in 2016 after being removed from the heart transplant waiting list at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center.

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Regina now collects random feathers that fall into her life in memory of her brother, Travis Hogan, who died in 2016 after being removed from the heart transplant waiting list at Baylor St. Luke's Medical

... more

Photo: Elizabeth Conley/Houston Chronicle


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Travis Hogan died in 2016 after being removed from the heart transplant waiting list at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center.

Travis Hogan died in 2016 after being removed from the heart transplant waiting list at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center.

Photo: Elizabeth Conley/Houston Chronicle


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A photo of Travis Hogan with his sisters on a shelf in their parents' Pasadena, Texas, home. Hogan was removed from the heart transplant list from Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center in 2016 and died a few months later.

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A photo of Travis Hogan with his sisters on a shelf in their parents' Pasadena, Texas, home. Hogan was removed from the heart transplant list from Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center in 2016 and died a few months

... more

Photo: Elizabeth Conley/Houston Chronicle


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Regina Tran takes a moment while reflecting on the memory of her brother, Travis Hogan, who died in 2016 after being removed from the heart transplant waiting list at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center.

Regina Tran takes a moment while reflecting on the memory of her brother, Travis Hogan, who died in 2016 after being removed from the heart transplant waiting list at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center.

Photo: Elizabeth Conley/Houston Chronicle


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St. Luke’s in Houston to suspend heart transplants after recent deaths

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Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center on Friday temporarily suspended its renowned heart transplant program following two deaths in recent weeks, saying it needs to reassess what went wrong and determine the path forward.

The decision to put the program on a 14-day inactive status — meaning it will turn away all donor hearts during that time — came two weeks after the Houston Chronicle and ProPublica reported that in recent years the program has performed an outsized number of transplants resulting in deaths and lost several top physicians. One of the program's two primary surgeons left for another job this week.

HEART FAILURE: At St. Luke's in Houston, patients suffer as a renowned heart transplant program loses its luster


"We greatly respect and value the trust patients and their families have placed in us over the years, and believe this temporary pause will serve their best interests," Doug Lawson, CEO of Catholic Health Initiatives Texas Division, which operates St. Luke's, said in a written statement Friday afternoon. "Although extensive reviews are conducted on each unsuccessful transplant, the recent patient outcomes deserve an in-depth review before we move forward with the program. Our prayers are with the families, as well as all those on the waiting list."

For weeks, officials at St. Luke's and its affiliated Baylor College of Medicine have defended the program, saying they had 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 in recent months, more patients have died. James "Lee" Lewis, a 52-year-old pipefitter from Bay City, died on March 23, nearly three months after operating room equipment malfunctioned during a key stage of his transplant surgery. Another patient, a 67-year-old bankruptcy lawyer named Robert Barron, died on May 5, three months after his transplant. A third patient died in recent weeks, prompting the hospital's decision Friday.

HEART FAILURE: A heart transplant, a medical mishap and a drawn-out death

"I'm glad they are doing something," said Jennifer Lewis, who chronicled her husband's transplant and drawn-out death on Facebook and shared it with reporters for a story published last week. "That was my hope in speaking out and telling Lee's story."

After the news organizations' investigation was published, St. Luke's launched a website, HeartTransplantFacts.org, to counter the findings of ProPublica and the Chronicle. The site on Friday was replaced with a notice about the program's inactive status.

It appears the program had slowed down, even before Friday's announcement. In the first five months of this year, it performed only nine transplants, well below the pace it kept in the past two years, according to data from the United Network for Organ Sharing.

TELL US YOUR STORY: Are you an employee, patient or a family member of a patient at the Texas Medical Center? We want to hear from you

The decision to put the program on hold punctuates a dramatic fall for one of the nation's most respected heart transplant programs. It was at St. Luke's that famed surgeon Denton Cooley performed some of the world's first heart transplants back in the 1960s, and where his protégé, Dr. O.H. "Bud" Frazier, has pursued a lifelong quest to develop a complete mechanical replacement for the human heart.

In 2016, some St. Luke's cardiologists grew so troubled by the program's direction that they began referring some of their patients to other hospitals for transplants.

Even as it struggled in recent years, the hospital continued to market itself as a standout, boasting above-average survival rates and high transplant volume. Its website calls it "one of the most experienced, successful programs in the world."

HEART FAILURE: A Houston surgeon's hidden history of research violations, conflicts of interest and poor outcomes

In January, the federal Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services cited the heart transplant program for its significantly worse-than-expected outcomes and threatened to cut off Medicare funds if the problems were not fixed, according to a letter obtained by ProPublica and the Chronicle. The program has since submitted a plan of correction and avoided the loss of federal funds.

During the heart transplant suspension, officials said they will continue recruiting surgeons "to strengthen the program." A newly created special committee of the hospital's board of directors also will conduct a comprehensive review, the hospital's statement said. The move will not affect other heart-failure procedures, such as heart-pump implants, or any other transplant programs across the hospital.

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Mike Hixenbaugh is an investigative reporter at the Houston Chronicle. Email him at [email protected] and follow him on Twitter at @Mike_Hixenbaugh.

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