The kidney transplant program at Via Christi is at least another three months from restarting, according to hospital officials.
The hospital has requested another extension from the United Network for Organ Sharing – an accreditation body for transplant programs – until the end of February.
It should hear by the end of the month whether the extension has been granted, said Gary Sigle, the transplant program administrator who was hired over the summer to restructure and restart the program.
The transplant program, which had been in place since 1981, was suspended in May 2012 after Via Christi learned that four transplant patients in the preceding year had died within a three-week period and that another patient had experienced kidney failure but lived.
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Via Christi officials said an investigation of the deaths showed no common threads. But as a precaution, the hospital decided to halt the program.
With the program suspended, two transplant surgeons, Charles Shield and Anthony Rezcallah, left Wichita Surgical Specialists, which provided physicians for the program. Shield retired and Rezcallah resigned.
The biggest factor causing the delay is hiring a new surgical team. Sigle says Via Christi is recruiting for two surgeons and a nephrologist.
So far, he said, a handful of candidates have been interviewed.
“We continue to gain ground identifying qualified candidates and continue to do so,” Sigle said. “UNOS understands that.”
Initially, Via Christi officials said they would need to have physicians in place by the end of May to avoid the entire accreditation process. In May, Via Christi was given a six-month extension from UNOS.
If the hospital receives the latest extension, it will not have to undergo the entire accreditation process again.
But if it doesn’t, Sigle says he will “have a lot more paperwork” and they will have to start it as a new program.
“As an organization, we’re still fully committed to getting this program up and running,” said Ryan Kelly, administrator of surgical services for Via Christi.
“The senior leadership is committed to bringing this service back to Wichita, to the patients. We want to do it right and get the right team together to restart the program.”
There were 97 people on the list to have a transplant at Via Christi when the program was suspended. Via Christi officials say there are currently 33 patients still on the list in “inactive status.”
The rest of the patients were referred to other programs in places such as Kansas City, Oklahoma City and Denver. The hospital does not have information on how many of those patients have had transplants.
When the program was suspended, it was performing about 40 kidney transplants a year.
Looking at the regional health care market, Sigle thinks the program will be able to do 70 or 80 transplants per year once it is restarted.
In August, Via Christi Hospital St. Francis moved its transplant institute from the sixth floor to the second floor, where pre- and post-operative appointments will be held.
Sigle said that he’s been developing an advanced business plan for the program and that about 10 transplant staff members have been updating policies and implementing and training on a new electronic health record program designed specifically for transplant patients.
“The staff is arranged for the day it is opened,” Sigle said.
Eventually, Via Christi plans to add other organs to the program, like liver and pancreas. Sigle estimates it would take another year and a half to two years after the kidney program is restarted to develop a liver program.
He estimates that program could perform about 30 liver transplants a year once it is running.