Doctors at Scripps Clinic and Research Foundation in La Jolla will announce within the next few days a plan to begin transplanting hearts and lungs.
Officials would not give details of their program Thursday, but confirmed that they are on the verge of an announcement.
David Gollaher, vice president for marketing and strategic planning, said the specifics of a plan to inaugurate heart and lung transplant programs will be given in a news release.
The ambitious plan would make Scripps the second hospital in San Diego to offer heart transplants. A lung program would put it at the forefront of U.S. research hospitals in that area, since there were only five unilateral lung transplants done last year in the nation.
Simultaneous heart-lung transplants are more common, though still experimental, numbering fewer than 50 a year in the United States.
Sharp Considering Own Effort
Sharp Memorial Hospital, which has San Diego's only heart transplant program, is considering whether to establish its own heart-lung transplant effort jointly with UCSD Medical Center. Doctors hope to get that program started within two months, but UCSD officials, concerned about the $500,000 they would have to contribute, say it could take longer.
Word of Scripps' plans has circulated throughout the medical community within recent months, accompanied by speculation on what it might mean for Sharp's program.
Thursday, Sharp spokeswoman Cindy Cohagen said that the hospital isn't too concerned about losing patients to Scripps. She noted that, when the clinic began doing open-heart surgery, Sharp did not experience a drop in demand for its own program.
She predicted that patients will look at Sharp's success rate and choose it over a fledgling Scripps program.
"Sharp has now performed 35 transplants on 31 patients. We've had a 90% success rate over three years. I predict that the patients will look at the resources that are available, and I think we have both the track record and those resources," Cohagen said.
Potential for Increasing Demand
Especially since Scripps prides itself on attracting non-San Diego patients to its facilities, a Scripps program could have the potential for increasing demand for already scarce donor hearts.
Cohagen said Sharp has five patients on its heart-transplant waiting list because of a lack of donor organs. Waits have ranged from three weeks to four months.
Of more concern to Sharp than competition for patients, Cohagen said, is "that the clinic might attempt to buy off people trained at Sharp with the technical skills that are going to be necessary for a successful program. The critical-care nurses are key to the success of the program."