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As Wait for New Heart Got Longer, Patient Grew Sicker

By ProPublica  
   May 16, 2018

Baylor St. Luke's in Houston was known for handling complex heart transplants. But when Travis Hogan was a patient there, he didn't know that the program was undergoing a series of dramatic changes. He never got his heart.

This article first appeared May 16, 2017 on ProPublica.

By Mike Hixenbaugh, Houston Chronicle, and Charles Ornstein, ProPublica

In early 2014, when Travis Hogan’s malformed heart was failing, his longtime doctors at Texas Children’s Hospital referred him to Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center, long recognized as one of the best in the country for complicated heart transplants.

Hogan, then 29 and living at his family’s home in Pasadena, Texas, didn’t know it, but the iconic program was undergoing a series of dramatic changes.

Two years earlier, the transplant program slipped into turmoil when several top physicians left for a competitor. In the years that followed, patients at St. Luke’s waited significantly longer than the regional or national average for new hearts.

In 2015, as Hogan’s health declined after more than a year on the list, he was dealt two additional blows. First, hospital staff took him off the active transplant waiting list in November 2015, citing his worsening liver as cause for concern, which his mother, Georgeann Hogan, said she did not know until told by a reporter this week.

Then, around that same time, hospital staff explained that Dr. O.H. “Bud” Frazier, the 75-year-old surgeon who initially agreed to treat her son, was no longer operating. Frazier had been planning to implant a ventricular assist device to aid Hogan’s failing heart and allow his liver to recover until he could receive a transplant, Georgeann Hogan said.

She said nobody told her family why Frazier had stopped operating; Frazier told reporters in an interview in April that he was getting old and was ready to stop.

The change stunned Hogan’s family.

They did not realize that earlier in the year, several patients died shortly after receiving transplants at St. Luke’s, leading the hospital to scrutinize the heart program and adopt a more conservative approach.

It also hired a new lead surgeon, Dr. Jeffrey Morgan, who arrived in early 2016. Hospital staff told the Hogans that Morgan would pick up where Frazier left off with his plans for a ventricular assist device, Georgeann Hogan said.

ProPublica is an independent, non-profit newsroom that produces investigative journalism in the public interest.

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