PORTLAND, OR (KPTV) - For the first time, we’re getting an update on how people with heart failure are being cared for in the Portland area, after OHSU suspended its heart transplant program last summer.
It was the only such program in Oregon, so right now patients who need a heart transplant are having to travel out of state to get one.
But there’s a lot of care – leading to transplant, post-surgery and for other heart failure issues – that they can still get right here at home.
Doctors with the cardiac care program at Providence have already been providing that care for years, but now their workload has grown significantly.
They say they’ve taken on some 350 patients from OHSU over the last six months, including patients who have already had a heart transplant and need continued care, and those who have other heart devices like pumps.
“Everybody at Providence from physicians to nurses to clinic managers have really stepped up to accommodate these patients,” said Dr. Dan Oseran, the executive medical director of the Providence Heart Institute.
Karanjeet Samra is one of those patients.
“It was really in a critical stage when I actually reported to the emergency room,” he told FOX 12 Wednesday.
It was nearly a year ago when the Gresham husband and father learned he had congestive heart failure.
Last May, he had surgery to put a small pump in his heart, called an LVAD or Left Ventrical Aid Device. It helps the heart muscles pump blood throughout the body, and it’s the only thing keeping him alive while he waits for a transplant.
His case was referred to OHSU, but then he got some bad news.
“I got a call from them that they’re no longer able to accept any new patients,” Sambra said.
He was referred to Providence for pre-transplant care and is now on the transplant list at the University of Washington in Seattle.
At any moment he could get the call that it’s time to go, and he’ll need to stay in the Seattle area for three months or more after his procedure for medical follow-up.
“I was afraid just of the logistics of going to Seattle and coming back,” he said. “Fortunately, we have family in Seattle.”
But not everyone is so lucky.
Without a local heart transplant program in Portland, patients are being referred to other hospitals in Washington and California, like UW, Providence Spokane, Stanford, UCSF and Cedars-Sinai.
There were 20 patients on OHSU’s wait list for a heart transplant at the time the program was suspended. OHSU has previously said that all 20 were either connected with other transplant hospitals or elected not to.”
Connected to the headache of travel and lodging, there’s a huge financial burden involved with going out-of-state for the procedure. That’s something Providence is helping with too, through a nonprofit third party connected to the hospital.
Leaders at both Providence and OHSU tell FOX 12 they are working together to reopen a local heart transplant program in Portland, and conversations are underway to determine what that would look like and when it could happen.
Dr. Renee Edwards, the Chief Medical Officer at OHSU, told FOX 12 on Wednesday they are actively interviewing for new heart failure transplant cardiologists and are also recruiting for a new director of the Knight Cardiovascular Institute.
Edwards said as soon as the hospital has the team they need in place, they’ll be able to reopen the transplant program. While regulatory guidelines require that only one heart failure transplant cardiologist is required for an open program, Edwards said they realize that isn’t practical and they hope to have four in place soon.
“It’s important that we have a local transplant program for our community and our patients,” Dr. Oseran agreed.
It’s possible the new program could be a collaboration between the two health systems.
For Sambra, he hopes it happens soon – if not for him, for other people in the Portland area who need a new heart.
“They’re very good people at the University of Washington,” Samra said. “But having it in your own city, in your own state is definitely a better prospect for everybody.”
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