State Health Commissioner Dr. Howard Zucker on Thursday approved a proposal by Northwell Health Network to make its North Shore University Hospital in Manhasset the first on Long Island to offer heart transplants.
The approval, which had been recommended by a vote of the State Public Health and Health Planning Council, means that, for the first time, Nassau and Suffolk residents will be able to have the delicate and life-extending surgery without having to travel to New York City or beyond.
Zucker also approved a second new program for the state, proposed by NYU Hospitals Center in Manhattan on Thursday after a meeting of the council in downtown New York.
Existing heart-transplant centers in the state include NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, Montefiore Medical Center and Mount Sinai Medical Center — all in New York City — Westchester Medical Center and Strong Memorial Hospital in Rochester.
Dr. Lewis Teperman, North Shore’s vice chair of surgery and director of solid-organ transplantion at Northwell, said the new Long Island heart transplant program will help patients’ families, too, because they will be nearby to help with transportation and rehabilitation before and after surgery.
“Transplantation is not just during the surgery,” Teperman said. “People often come back and forth at least once a week. We forget about the families.”
Residents of Queens, Brooklyn and Staten Island also are expected to benefit from the program, as well as patients from other parts of the state, Northwell officials said.
The approval comes amid a persistent shortage in New York of organ donations relative to other regions of the country. Zucker referenced the shortage during the meeting and said the state was taking steps to address it. “New York has launched an ambitious effort to increase organ donations,” he said.
That shortage could make things difficult for the two new heart transplant programs, but Northwell officials said they already have been working on efforts to boost the number of donated organs in the state.
Among the planned initiatives, North Shore plans to ask its 64,000 employees to consider donation, officials said.
Teperman expects North Shore to perform its first heart transplant some time in the last quarter of 2017 and says he’s anticipating 10 such operations in the program’s first year.
Northwell hired Teperman, a respected liver-transplant surgeon, away from NYU in 2016. He previously served as a vice chair of surgery at NYU, which did not return phone calls for comment about its own new transplant program.
It’s the first time since 1999 that the state has even considered expanding the number of heart-transplant programs.
Dr. Gerin Stevens will serve as medical director of the transplant program at North Shore, which is partnering in the development of its new transplant program with Maimonides Medical Center in Brooklyn. Dr. Brian Lima, recently a transplant surgeon and researcher at Baylor University Medical Center in Houston, will be director of cardiac transplantation at North Shore.
Currently, 322 adult residents in New York are candidates on the waitlist for a heart transplant, according to the Organ Procurement Transplantation Network. And New York State has the highest number of candidates waiting for a heart transplant in the country.
Northwell Health hospitals collectively treat more heart failure patients than any health system in New York State. Over the past three years, Northwell facilities hospitalized 20,906 heart failure patients, or 14 percent of the statewide total. Northwell’s heart failure team is currently following about 1,000 patients.
When asked whether the existence of two new heart transplant centers might decrease the number of donor hearts available to existing heart transplant centers in New York, Helen Irving, president of LiveOnNY, an organization that facilitates organ donation for Long Island, New York City and a large portion of New York State, said: “LiveOnNY does not determine how many transplant programs operate in New York. Our role is to focus on ensuring organ and tissue donors’ wishes are honored, families of donors are supported, and lives are saved. To that end, we encourage everyone to consider signing up as an organ donor at longliveny.org.”
Heart transplants in New York
Source: Organ Procurement and Transportation Network