UK Children’s Hospital plans to resume heart surgeries after hiatus caused by deaths of five children, departure of surgeon

The University of Kentucky Children’s Hospital plans to resume heart surgeries, following a suspension of the program prompted by the deaths of five children in 11 months and the departure of the hospital’s only pediatric heart surgeon, reports CNN, which has been tracking the story for some time.

The hospital will hire a new surgeon and have an intensive care unit only for heart patients, will no longer perform the most difficult types of surgery to repair congenital heart defects, and may partner with another hospital for the work, reports Elizabeth Cohen, CNN’s senior medical correspondent.

Cohen interviewed parents of the five children, who said they were upset that UK’s 102-page report on the pediatric heart program didn’t reveal why they died, and didn’t even mention the deaths. “How do you know the problems have been fixed when they’re not identified?” asked Kevin Allen, one of the parents. “They can say they fixed them, but is an internal review really objective?”

Cohen says in her report, “Shockingly, it seems no medical governing body is required to sign off on the hospital’s decision to reopen the troubled unit,” then shows part of her interview last May with Dr. Michael Karpf, the UK vice president who runs UK HealthCare, in which he says the only permission needed comes from him.

Asked if parents should trust the reopened unit to do a good job, Karpf said, “This is America. They have a choice. They can trust us or not trust us. All I can tell them is that I’m not going to reopen until I feel good about it. It’s as simple as that.”

The hospital declined to schedule an interview of Karpf for Cohen’s latest story, so she tried to interview him as he was traveling. Asked why the children died, he replied that children also die after surgeries at other hospitals. Cohen reports, “But other hospitals are far more transparent. They tell how many babies died.”

When Cohen asked Karpf if he could explain why so many children died at the hospital, he said “Our mortality [rate] fit the national standards.” Cohen accuses him of “spinning the facts,” and reports that the rate in 2012 was 7.1 percent, more than double the national rate of 3.2. UK says the rate for 2010-12 was 5.8, near the national rate of 5.3 for that period. (Watch the story)

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