PORTLAND, Ore. (KOIN) – The only remaining doctor in Oregon’s only heart transplant program has resigned, leaving the state with no medical facilities that can perform the life-saving procedure.
Oregon Health & Science University will transfer the 20 patients on its waiting list to other transplant centers. There are also more than 300 post-transplant patients in their care.
The Portland hospital notified patients this week that it was suspending its heart transplant program for 14 days because one doctor had left and two others had given notice.
The 14-day suspension period goes through September 7, but with the entire OHSU cardiologist team out by the end of September, the chances of the program re-opening at that time are slim.
Other medical centers that have suspended similar programs have taken months or years to resurrect them.
The final doctor to leave did not give a reason for her departure.
Sources who did not want to go on-camera told KOIN 6 News there’s serious internal turmoil inside the department at OHSU, but would not elaborate further.
‘How can they go on? They can’t’
One of those patients on the waiting list for a heart, Russell Dunn, said he wants some answers.
“How can you do that?” Dunn told KOIN 6 News. “I talked with Dr. Mudd. He apologized profusely. He felt very bad. But he did call me rather than someone else, he called.”
He said he got the call Saturday and said he’d heard about some of the doctors leaving.
“But not all of them. I’m thinking, well, how can they go on? And,” he said, “they can’t.”
Dunn said the close bond between a doctor and heart transplant patient “is nothing I’ve ever experienced. I am so close to these people, the people that have quit.”
The nearest heart transplant programs are Seattle and San Francisco. Officials with the University of Washington’s program told KOIN 6 News they would gladly take in any transplant patients from OHSU, and said they are currently reviewing at least 8 cases.
Dunn, who was placed on the OHSU list in April, said he’s one of the patients interested in going to Washington.
Heart transplant lists are not listed in order. That is, a variety of factors — including blood type and overall condition — determine who gets the next heart. That means a person on the OHSU waiting list won’t necessarily be on the bottom of another facility’s list.
Dunn, who has had heart disease since he was 15 and had open-heart surgery in 1994, said he felt tremendously let down.
“It’s like your house is on fire and the fire department went on strike. You know what I mean?”
The Associated Press contributed to this report