About six months after Hoag Hospital in Newport Beach recruited two heart transplant surgeons, UC Irvine Medical Center in Orange recruited one too.
Hoag officials say they welcome the competition, but at least one official from the national organ procurement network--the United Network of Organ Sharing--worried that there may not be enough donor hearts to support two neighboring transplant programs.
"One heart transplant program in Orange County would probably be sufficient," said Robert Mendez, a Los Angeles kidney transplant surgeon who is chairman of UNOS' organ procurement distribution committee.
UCI and Hoag officials say they think there will be room for both heart transplant programs.
And UCI insists that it is not competing with Hoag. "We're developing our own program. . . . We're not interested in the mentality of competition. I wish them all the success in the world," said Richard A. Ott, the 35-year-old heart transplant surgeon recently recruited from the University of Arizona at Tucson by UCI.
Ott Came From UCI
Ott added, however, that "we are competing to be the very best." But he stressed that the issue is the welfare of Orange County cardiac patients--not besting a community hospital like Hoag.
The fact that the medical center hired Ott just six months after Hoag recruited cardiac surgeons Douglas R. Zusman and Aiden Raney from Sharp Memorial Hospital in San Diego was coincidence, said Dr. G. Robert Mason, UCI's surgery department chairman.
Ott has roots in Orange County, Mason added. A former UCI surgery resident who performed more than 60 heart transplants while on a fellowship in heart transplantation at the University of Arizona, the 35-year-old cardiac surgeon wanted to return to the county and UCI.
Mason said UCI sees itself as a "full-service institution" and has long wanted to expand its surgeries to include heart transplants. (Although UCI's heart transplant program has not yet been evaluated by UNOS, the medical center has provisional approval to perform heart transplants because it has been successfully transplanting kidneys since 1969.)
However, UNOS' Mendez questioned whether UCI would eventually be able to meet the transplant network's rigorous criteria for heart transplants.
UNOS demands that a heart transplant center perform more than 200 cardiac surgeries a year, Mendez said. Raney and Zusman have performed more than 220 open-heart surgeries since last February. By contrast, Mason estimated that UCI has performed about 50 open-heart surgeries in the last year. He predicted that with Ott's arrival, such surgeries would probably increase to about 120 to 150 cases a year.
Ott agreed, noting that UCI's open-heart surgeries had "quadrupled" since he arrived.
UCI has broader goals than just implanting donor hearts, Ott said. In a few years, and with an investment of about $1 million, UCI hopes to be a center that would offer artificial heart transplants using the Jarvik heart, he said.
UCI is planning a symposium on heart transplantation April 9. Speakers will include Dr. Margaret Billingham, a Stanford University pathologist; Dr. Jack Copeland, director of the University of Arizona heart transplant program, and Paul Terasaki, an expert on heart transplants from UCLA, Ott said.
Since they arrived in Orange County last February, Hoag surgeons Raney and Zusman have regularly made speeches describing heart transplant surgery before local medical groups and the local chapter of the American Heart Assn. In addition, Hoag recently began promoting organ donation. "While few of us choose to think about or anticipate death, taking a moment to sign a donor card makes possible the most generous gift you can give--the gift of life," a recently published Hoag pamphlet on the subject says.