MUSC discontinues adult heart transplant program

CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCIV) -- The Medical University of South Carolina started informing heart patients this week that it was voluntarily shutting down its adult heart transplant program after growing concern over the weakness of the transplanted organs.

"This relatively sudden and unexplained patient safety issue must be addressed to ensure our patients are clearly informed and receiving the highest quality of care possible," the hospital said in a statement.

MUSC is the only hospital in South Carolina that performs adult heart transplants. The program is anticipated to be up and running again by mid-summer if everything with the review works out, officials said.

According to officials, an internal review at the beginning of the year was not able to uncover the cause of the issue, so the hospital invited a team of cardiologists and transplant surgeons to study the process at MUSC and review the entire program.

However, officials said the team did not find a cause to the issue and MUSC was told to continue with its adult heart transplants.

Since then, MUSC performed two transplants. Both of the hearts were weak and one of the patients died as a result of the weak organ, officials said.

"This is the reason we have temporarily and voluntarily stopped doing adult heart transplants, and we will not perform any adult heart transplants until we have finished a top to bottom investigation with the help of United Network for Organ Sharing," the hospital said in a statement Thursday afternoon.

UNOS is coming to Charleston next week to participate in the investigation in the heart transplant program. The records UNOS has access to are up to two years old, so UNOS is visiting MUSC to dig through the most recent transplant data at the hospital.

Over the last 25 years, MUSC's heart transplant first-year survival rate is 90 percent, officials said. In that time, there have been no major personnel changes in the program.

In the letter to patients, MUSC says patients on the transplant list have been moved to inactive status. The letter also lets patients know what their options are, including a transfer to another hospital for treatment. Officials said current patients looking to transfer will be helped by hospital staff members in their search for alternate care.

While transplants are suspended, hospital officials said the staff will still provide a wide range of heart-failure treatments.

Hospital officials did not have an average number of heart transplants performed at the center each year, but said there have been approximately 500 transplants in the last 25 years.

However, the pediatric heart transplant program is fully operational and unaffected by this voluntary inactivation of the adult program.