Advocate Christ Medical Center Ready To Begin Heart Transplants Following State Approval

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Heart Transplants

Oak Lawn-based Advocate Christ Medical Center will begin performing heart transplants, as a result of approval by the Illinois Health Facilities Planning Board.

Meeting in Springfield, board members voted in favor of the medical center's certificate-of-need application to establish the Chicago area's sixth heart transplant program and the first within the Advocate Health Care system. The vote followed release of a board staff report that found the medical center's request conforms to all state regulations. Those regulations include the requirement that the medical center document sufficient need exists for another heart transplant program in Illinois.

"In comparison to other states, Illinois has had a low transplant rate based on its population. We anticipate not only fulfilling a need in Illinois, but growing to become one of the busiest heart transplant centers in the state," said Kenneth Lukhard, president of Advocate Christ Medical Center.

Heart transplantation is a logical extension of Christ Medical Center's nationally recognized expertise in cardiovascular services, including the treatment of patients with advanced heart failure.

In fact, the medical center, which has one of the leading organ-donor programs in the state, also has developed the busiest mechanical heart pump program in the state of Illinois and one of the busiest in the country. These heart pumps -- called ventricular assist devices, or VADs -- are used frequently as a "bridge" to heart transplantation, providing mechanical assistance to a patient's own failing heart until a donor heart becomes available. VADs also are proving successful as devices that remain permanently in place in patients who are not eligible for a heart transplant.

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Since the mid-1990s, Christ Medical Center's experienced team of physicians, nurses and health care support staff has performed an estimated 200 of the complex surgical procedures necessary to implant VADs. In 2006, the medical center performed 39 VAD implantations -- more than any other program in Illinois.

The skills and expertise required to implant these pumps are the same as required to perform heart transplants -- a fact recognized by the federal Medicare program, which puts both VAD implants and heart transplants in the same reimbursement category.

Last fall, following rigorous review and analysis, the United Network for Organ Sharing, the national agency that accredits institutions for solid organ transplantation, approved Christ Medical Center's request to initiate a heart transplant program. The agency determined that the medical center has the skilled and experienced health care professionals needed to perform successful transplants.

Those Christ Medical Center professionals include cardiologists and cardiothoracic surgeons who have been involved actively in educating physicians throughout Illinois and the nation concerning the identification and screening of potential candidates for VADs and heart transplants. This same team, led by Mark Slaughter MD, cardiothoracic surgeon and director of the campus' mechanical heart device program, and cardiologist, Marc Silver MD, chairman of the department of medicine and director of the Heart Failure Institute, is assisting the Joint Commission on Accreditation of Healthcare Organizations in creating standards for accrediting hospitals and physicians to perform VAD implantations.

The heart transplant program at Christ Medical Center is expected to increase the number of such heart surgeries in Illinois by raising awareness of this treatment option and attracting new patient referrals.

The Christ Medical Center team anticipates that its new program will evaluate 15 to 20 or more heart-transplant candidates a year. This number is based on the more than 1.22 million patients served by the Advocate Health Care system annually, Advocate's current network of patient referrals, the ability of the Christ Medical Center team to transport suitable donor organs from anywhere in the Midwest, and Christ Medical Center's own population of patients who are implanted with mechanical heart pumps as they await transplantation.

Most importantly, the creation of an Advocate heart-transplant program at Christ Medical Center will ensure continuity of care for Advocate patients with severe heart failure and those implanted with heart pumps. Until now, such patients, who received all their care within the Advocate system, have had to endure a long, laborious and stressful process in trying to transfer to another institution for heart transplantation, Drs. Slaughter and Silver said.

The heart transplant program will be based in Christ Medical Center's newly established Heart Institute.

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