OU Health Lists First Patient for Pediatric Heart Transplant

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OU Health Lists First Patient for Pediatric Heart Transplant

Oklahoma Children’s Hospital OU Health has added its first patient to a national waiting list for a donor heart after getting approval from the nonprofit organization that oversees organ sharing in the United States, a milestone meaning Oklahoma children and families no longer must leave the state for heart transplants.

This is the first time a pediatric heart transplant patient at Oklahoma Children’s Hospital has been added to the organ transplant list with the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), which manages the allocation of organs from deceased donors across the country. Oklahoma Children’s Hospital Heart Center will be the only pediatric heart transplant program in Oklahoma and fill a great need for the state and region’s pediatric heart patients, becoming a destination center for this care. The team includes experienced pediatric cardiothoracic surgeons, cardiologists and advanced practice providers who use the latest in treatment protocols and advanced techniques as well as clinical trials that have resulted in medical breakthroughs in the field of pediatric cardiac care.

“With the first pediatric patient listed for a heart transplant in Oklahoma, this is the final step in ensuring that all the children of Oklahoma will have access to all cardiac care without having to leave the state,” said OU Health pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon, Harold Burkhart, M.D. “We are poised to perform this life-saving procedure once a suitable organ is found for our listed patient. This is incredibly important and it’s a milestone that was 10 years in the making.”

Oklahoma Children’s Hospital Heart Center has seen dramatic growth in recent years, with Burkhart arriving in Oklahoma in 2014 to build the surgery program, followed by an increase in surgery cases and improved outcomes. Now, the pediatric cardiac surgery team performs more than 500 surgeries each year and the number of children who survive open-heart surgery — 98.8% — stands above the national average, regardless of the surgery’s complexity. U.S. News & World Report has recognized the program as a Top 50 Best Children’s Hospitals in the nation for Pediatric Cardiology & Heart Surgery for its 2022-2023 and 2023-2024 rankings. In addition, Oklahoma Children’s Hospital received the 2021 Mended Hearts International, Regional, Divisional, and National Hospital of the Year awards.

In preparation for the new transplant program, Oklahoma Children’s Hospital opened the state’s only pediatric Cardiac Intensive Care Unit (CICU) in 2022. The 25-bed unit is dedicated solely to the care of children with heart conditions, including comprehensive care for children who are heart transplant patients. Pediatric heart transplant patients will not only be able to have the transplant surgery in Oklahoma, close to home, but they will also receive post-operative care and follow-up in the state-of-the-art CICU.

“The state of Oklahoma now has a comprehensive pediatric heart transplant center and we are able to coordinate and implement the most comprehensive care for our pediatric transplant patients,” said OU Health pediatric cardiologist R. Erik Edens, M.D., Ph.D. “This new program fills the last gap in care of pediatric aged patients with congenital heart disease in Oklahoma and will allow such patients to receive comprehensive heart care right here in Oklahoma.”

Heart failure in children is caused by either heart muscle conditions known as cardiomyopathy or congenital heart defects. Some medical conditions can also cause children to develop heart defects or can seriously damage a child’s heart. Regardless of the cause, children with serious heart problems sometimes won’t survive without a heart transplant.

On average, about 450 pediatric heart transplants are performed every year in the United States. Children with congenital heart disease usually have between 1 to 3 open heart surgeries prior to receiving a heart transplant. A heart transplant can prolong their lives and improve the quality of life for these children.

Pediatric heart allocation in the United States follows an algorithm that prioritizes candidates based on three tiers of medical urgency, as well as blood type, and distance between the donor and recipient hospitals. This means that sicker children will receive higher priority. It can take days, weeks, months, or even years before a suitable donor organ is available.

OU Health is aggressively pursuing improved health outcomes for Oklahomans, with focuses like infant mortality and maternal-fetal health. Offering programs like pediatric hearth transplant pushes that commitment to Oklahoma’s health to the next level.

“Our unique role serving Oklahoma is to be the destination of choice for patients with severe and life-threatening conditions that are best served in an academic milieu with access to teams of experts armed with the latest technology and knowledge,” said Richard Lofgren, M.D., MPH, president and CEO of OU Health. “We aggressively work to better the health outcomes of all Oklahomans and it is a major clinical achievement to have listed our first pediatric patient for a heart transplant.”

The first pediatric heart transplant will be conducted when an appropriate donor is available for an appropriate patient on the list.