PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) - After getting the final go-ahead earlier this year, Providence Heart Institute has begun performing heart transplants.

Providence planned to begin their first transplants this past spring, but due to the COVID-19 pandemic it was delayed. Doctors then said transplants could begin as early as July.

Since then, Providence says five patients have new hearts thanks to their program.

Thomas Hatch, 53, was the first patient to receive a heart transplant at Providence St. Vincent Medical Center in July.

Hatch went into the hospital on his birthday. He says getting a new heart is like being reborn.

"I'm not even sure I'd be here today cause kind of listening to the doctors, it sounds like I was getting ready to check out," Hatch said.

Dr. Kevin Koomalsingh is the surgical director of Providence St. Vincent's Heart Transplant Program.

"The core reason why I love this - meeting patients when they are extremely ill and are really in need of life-saving treatments and getting them to a better place and getting them across the finish line with a heart transplant," said. Dr. Koomalsingh.

"Dr. Koomalsing said when they put my new heart in, my body and new heart got along just perfectly," said Les Wallace, heart transplant patient.

Wallace, 71, got his new heart just two weeks ago thanks to Dr. Koomalsingh and a donor.

He had suffered for a decade with heart failure and was slipping away.

"When I found out that they found one for me, it was a pretty big sigh of relief," Wallace said.

Wallace holds onto a heart-shaped pillow that has been signed by healthcare workers at St. Vincent's ICU.

"Almost everybody signed it and wrote a little note and stuff," Wallace said. "So it's a special little thing."

With Providence's program, Oregon now has two heart transplant programs.

OHSU suspended its program in the summer of 2018 after a vital specialist and two others left the team. OHSU was approved to restart the program last summer.

In March 2019, a $75 million donation from Phil and Penny Knight helped support the development of the new Heart Transplant Program at Providence.

On Wednesday, Providence announced that it will rename its west pavilion at St. Vincent the "Phil and Penny Knight Pavilion."

“The Knights are truly allowing us to give the gift of life,” said Dr. Dan Oseran, executive medical director of Providence Heart Institute. “They, along with thousands of other donors, allow Providence Heart Institute to provide world-class care.”

According to Providence, it intends to perform up to 15 heart transplant in its first year.

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