Via Christi Health officials said Friday they are suspending kidney transplants after learning of the deaths of four patients who had transplants at different times in the past year.
In addition, during that period there was a failure of a transplanted kidney in another patient, but that patient did not die, officials said.
Carl Rider, interim senior vice president of Via Christi Health’s hospitals, said a preliminary internal review of the deaths and organ failure have not shown any “common thread” or cause among the four patients who died.
Steve Nesbit, chief medical officer for Via Christi Hospitals in Wichita, said the four patients had different causes of death.
But the fact that they all had kidney transplants and died within a three-week period prompted the health system to temporarily halt performing kidney transplants so it could study and review what happened and why.
“It could turn out to be random chance,” Rider said. “We really don’t know.”
Rider and Nesbit said all patients in the program — from those who are being put on the kidney transplant list to those receiving post-transplant care — have been notified of the program’s suspension and the reason why. Via Christi staff and physicians have also been notified.
The death and organ failure cases are being individually reviewed by a physician outside of the state at a nationally recognized, academic transplant center, Rider said. He declined to name that person.
“We feel like it was the best thing, the right thing, we could have done,” Rider said.
Via Christi is also in the process of selecting experts to come in to conduct a thorough review of its kidney transplant program to see what, if any, changes need to be made.
The transplant program was started in 1981. A total of 1,100 kidney transplants have been performed since then, Nesbit said, with 55 to 60 performed in recent years.
It is not unusual for an organ transplant program to voluntarily suspend performing transplantations for a variety of reasons, including deaths or vacancies created by transplant surgeons leaving a program, a spokeswoman for United Network for Organ Sharing said Friday. Neither she nor officials from other national organ transplant organizations could name any recent program suspensions for reasons similar to Via Christi’s, but said they have occurred at transplant programs in the U.S. in the past.
Via Christi’s Nesbit said the suspension could last several months. Patients who are awaiting kidney transplants will have to have them performed in Tulsa, Oklahoma City or at the University of Kansas Medical Center in Kansas City, which is the only other hospital in the state that performs kidney transplants.