Health Care

St. Luke’s Hospital to offer heart transplant care in Wichita

St. Luke’s Hospital of Kansas City will start seeing heart transplant patients in Wichita for the first time Wednesday. St. Luke’s is adding pre- and post-surgery care to its Wichita clinic at 1035 N. Emporia that currently serves kidney transplant patients. (May 17, 2016)
St. Luke’s Hospital of Kansas City will start seeing heart transplant patients in Wichita for the first time Wednesday. St. Luke’s is adding pre- and post-surgery care to its Wichita clinic at 1035 N. Emporia that currently serves kidney transplant patients. (May 17, 2016) The Wichita Eagle

St. Luke’s Hospital of Kansas City will start seeing heart transplant patients in Wichita for the first time Wednesday. 

Patients still won’t be able to receive heart transplants in Wichita, but St. Luke’s is adding pre- and post-surgery care to its Wichita clinic that currently serves kidney transplant patients.

Five cardiologists from St. Luke’s will take turns traveling to Wichita to see heart transplant patients once a month. That could increase, depending on demand.

St. Luke’s cardiologists will see patients in Wichita once a month. That could increase, depending on demand. Right now, patients travel to Kansas City for all appointments.

Right now, patients travel to Kansas City for all appointments. Depending on their condition, that amounts to significant mileage – once every two to four weeks leading up to the transplant, once a week after surgery, then every other week and eventually tapered down to once a month, once every three months and eventually once every six months.

Andrew Kao, cardiologist and head of heart transplantation at St. Luke’s, will see patients in Wichita on opening day, which is already filled with appointments.

He said the Wichita location won’t eliminate those appointments in Kansas City but will lessen the travel for many patients who are at least six months post-transplant.

“A lot of these people are doing quite well 15, 20 years after transplant,” he said. So he thought for Wichita: “Wouldn’t it be nice to have a place for them?”

Laurel Gifford, director of media relations for St. Luke’s, said St. Luke’s has between 30 and 40 patients in the Wichita area who are awaiting a heart transplant or have already received one.

At first, the cardiologists will see heart transplant patients once a month, but that might increase, depending on demand. Kao said the clinic has hired a full-time transplant coordinator who will be at the Wichita clinic to answer patient questions and potentially visit area hospitals to consult with heart transplant candidates. The coordinator is a highly skilled nurse who is specially trained in treating heart patients.

This is a very scary proposition for someone, so having someone based locally will be very valuable for some people.

Andrew Kao, head of the heart transplantation at St. Luke’s

“This is a very scary proposition for someone,” Kao said about the prospect of needing a heart transplant. “So having someone based locally will be very valuable for some people.”

Kao said the site also will have telemedicine capabilities to allow doctors to meet virtually with patients and listen to their hearts via an electronic stethoscope, between the once-a-month trips.

The Wichita location, 1035 N. Emporia, Suite 185, opened in August 2014 as St. Luke’s first satellite transplant center. This is the first move to expand services beyond kidney patients.

Last week, the Kidney Transplant Program at St. Luke’s named Lisa Weber, a Wichita kidney doctor, as its new associate medical director. She’ll continue practicing in Wichita while she oversees the kidney program.

Kelly Jobe, a 44-year-old Andover resident, is one of the patients who could benefit from the new clinic. He has survived five heart attacks and received a heart transplant at St. Luke’s in Kansas City in 2010.

He made the trips to and from Kansas City in one day – leaving at 3:45 a.m., taking medical tests throughout the day and returning to Wichita around 6 p.m. or later. He said the trips were financially burdensome and taxing on family and friends who took him when he could no longer drive.

“It really would have made a huge difference mentally,” he said. “The whole process is such a mental roller coaster for the family and the patient themselves.”

It really would have made a huge difference mentally. The whole process is such a mental roller coaster for the family and the patient themselves.

Kelly Jobe, Andover resident and heart transplant patient

Gabriella Dunn: 316-268-6400, @gabriella_dunn

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