Following Infant Death, Hospital Stops Heart Surgeries

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kentucky_hopsital_infants_deathKentucky Children’s Hospital is the focus of a CNN report involving dangerous heart surgeries and infant deaths.

In one case, the parents of a baby who was recovering from serious heart surgery was advised by a cardiologist at Kentucky Children’s Hospital to move their son to a different hospital. By the time the baby was airlifted to the University of Michigan, he was in heart failure, according to CNN. The baby was suffering from hypoplastic left heart syndrome in which the left side of the heart is malformed and cannot pump blood.

The condition involves a serious of three serious surgeries on the baby’s heart, which is tiny—the size of a newborn’s fist—according to CNN. Blood vessels are described as thinner than angel hair pasta and a mistake can be deadly. The pediatric patients are fragile and because of the risks, surgeons typically track the deaths and complications, taking enormous pride in the babies who survive. In fact, according to CNN, some physicians publish success rates on their hospital websites.

Meanwhile, Kentucky Children’s Hospital does not list pediatric heart surgery mortality rates claiming it is protecting patient information. In fact, media outlets and the Kentucky attorney general have asked the hospital for its mortality data and the hospital has refused, even going to court in April to keep its mortality rates private, CNN reported.

Parents of some of the babies treated at Kentucky Children’s say the facility’s intense secrecy and some issues during a two-month period in 2012 have raised their suspicions. Last August, a six-month-old baby boy died following surgery at Kentucky Children’s Hospital for hypoplastic left heart syndrome. Three weeks later, another baby underwent surgery and went into heart failure. Less than two weeks later, a newborn underwent what his father described as “botched” cardiac surgery at the hospital, according to CNN.

That same month, the hospital’s chief heart surgeon Dr. Mark Plunkett, went on paid leave, said Jay Blanton, Kentucky Children’s Hospital spokesman. The hospital stopped conducting heart surgeries; Dr. Plunkett was the only surgeon performing open-heart surgeries at the facility, according to CNN.

The children’s parents said they have not received an explanation as to why the surgeries were stopped or why Plunkett left the hospital. One of the parents told CNN, “I think they’re hiding something.” Another parent told CNN that his baby’s follow-up surgery took four hours longer than it should due to infection and scar tissue from the first surgery at Kentucky Children’s. The second surgeon also found and repaired a hole in the baby’s heart that was missed by the first surgeon, CNN reported.

Dr. Michael Karpf, executive vice president for health affairs at the University of Kentucky’s health care system, which includes Kentucky Children’s Hospital, told CNN that he put the hospital’s pediatric heart surgery program on hold as the facility’s mortality rates were not what he wanted. “They were OK, and OK isn’t good enough for me,” he said. “It’s got to be better. It’s got to be good.”

The facility still refuses to release mortality rates, the reason why Dr. Plunkett left, and the date of Dr. Plunkett’s last surgery, citing the federal patient privacy law known as the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act of 1996. According to CNN, Dr. Plunkett returned from a one-month leave, later resigning to take a job at the University of Florida.