Expert: MUSC could be first of many to cancel heart transplant program

By Stacy

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- The director of Duke Medical Center's heart transplant program says hospitals across the country are dealing with the same weak heart issues as the Medical University of South Carolina.

But one family says the news is still devastating as they consider their options.

Gus Molony saw shutting down the heart-transplant program at MUSC as life-changing for many families.

"They're going to be losing some of that hope. That hope is what keeps these people alive," he said.

Molony knew what it took to keep a loved one alive. His own father had a heart-eating virus at age 39. By 49, doctors had given him months to live. But, he was saved by a transplant at MUSC.

He lived 11 more years.

"This picture would not have been possible without the heart transplant," Molony said as he pointed at a photo of his father with his eldest daughter. "We didn't think he'd live to see his grandchildren. So for him to have that much of an impact on one of our child's lives was really truly a blessing."

But for the time being, life-changing transplants won't happen in South Carolina. MUSC officials said they couldn't pinpoint why they said they have been receiving weak hearts.

"Things like this are healthy. It makes us stop and look at our processes and make sure we're doing the right thing," said Dr. Joseph Rogers, medical director of Duke's heart transplant program.

Since the hospital started an internal review in January, officials said one patient died. Several others had gotten sick since last year, they said.

"A lot of the big senders in the U.S. are seeing this more commonly, but no one's exactly sure why," Rogers said.

Rogers applauded MUSC's move and said he wouldn't be surprised if more hospitals follow.

"It may be the general demographic of cardiac donors is changing. We know in the U.S. that the age of the average donor is going up," Rogers said.

According to the Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network, MUSC performed 17 heart transplants in 2013 as the only provider in South Carolina. The Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients rated MUSC at a 97-percent success rate, meaning 97 percent of patients survived one year past their transplants.

By comparison, four hospitals administered 117 heart transplants in North Carolina in 2013. Duke had a 93 percent patient survival rate.

MUSC assured patients they could be transferred to other hospital waiting lists, like Duke's. Rogers said transfer wouldn't hurt their standing on the list, but, he said the greatest impact would be on the inconvenience to patients and their families.

"It's a lot of back and forth for people. It won't be as convenient as being able to go to Charleston," Rogers said.

Molony agreed. Nothing compared to the comfort of home in the Lowcountry, he said.

He was grateful South Carolina doctors saved his dad and gave them priceless years together.