Kentucky Children’s Hospital Halts Heart Surgeries After Infant Deaths

kentucky_hopsital_childrens_deathKentucky Children’s Hospital, which halted surgery on infants with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, reportedly has gone to great lengths to keep its pediatric heart surgery mortality rates a secret.

The Kentucky attorney general requested the mortality data, which the hospital has declined to give, citing patient privacy. But in October 2012, Dr. Mark Plunkett, the hospital’s chief heart surgeon, the only surgeon performing open-heart surgeries at the hospital went on paid leave, according to hospital spokesman Jay Blanton, and the hospital stopped doing heart surgeries, CNN Health reports.

On August 30, 2012, 6-month-old Connor Wilson died after surgery at Kentucky Children’s Hospital for hypoplastic left heart syndrome. Three weeks later, Waylon Rainey had surgery and later went into heart failure. Eleven days after that, newborn Jaxon Russell had a “botched” heart surgery at Kentucky Children’s, according to his father. CNN Health reports that Waylon and Jaxon both survived after undergoing additional surgeries elsewhere.

In children born with hypoplastic left heart syndrome, the malformed left side of the heart cannot pump blood. Surgeons must perform a series of complex operations to repair the heart. The risks are great because the infants’ hearts are tiny, their blood vessels are extremely slender – less than the size of a strand of angel hair pasta – and the infants are medically fragile, CNN Health notes.

Dr. Michael Karpf, executive vice president for health affairs at the University of Kentucky’s health care system, which includes Kentucky Children’s Hospital, put the pediatric heart surgery program on hold because the mortality rates weren’t what he wanted them to be. Dr. Plunkett has left the University of Kentucky system for a position at the University of Florida. The Kentucky hospital plans to hire a new surgeon and reopen the program, according to CNN Health.

Parents of children treated at Kentucky Children’s expressed reservations about the heart surgery program. Those who spoke with CNN Health say they are troubled by vague answers they received to specific questions about outcomes and mortality rates for the type of surgeries their children needed. They say they will continue to press to have all safety data released to the public.


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