LARGO — Largo Medical Center may have already performed its first heart transplant procedure by the time you finish this article.
LMC has identified its first heart transplant patient and is awaiting a donor.
“The transplant may be as early as the next week as so,” Adam Rudd, chief executive officer of Largo Medical Center, told Tampa Bay Newspapers on Feb. 19.
“We have been approved by UNOS (the United Network of Organ Sharing), the agency that gives us the right to do transplants,” Rudd said. “We have the things in place to do it. We’ll be listed and eligible for a transplant in the next week or so — imminently.”
LMC, which is now Florida’s 10th medical center to perform heart transplants, plans to do 11 to 15 of the procedures in its first year, Rudd said. LMC’s volume of heart transplants will grow gradually.
“How big do we go?” Rudd said. “We will proceed cautiously, because the biggest thing is that you have great outcomes, and we’ll continue to have the best outcomes possible.”
The Transplant Institute of Florida at Largo Medical Center was launched in April 2015. LMC, which also performs kidney and liver transplants, will add lung transplant procedures in 2021.
“You’re going to see Largo Medical Center really move in a growth curve,” Rudd said. “Our community has lots of health care needs.”
LMC submitted a letter of intent to the Florida Agency for Health Care Administration in April 2018 to start a heart transplant program.
That timetable was expedited when the Florida Legislature eliminated the state’s “Certificate of Need” requirement for hospitals looking to add advanced services such as a heart transplant program.
LMC’s helipad — approved by the city on Dec. 18 — will start operation in April. The hospital is operating a temporary landing site on the property, Rudd said.
To be set in front of the hospital, the helipad will consist of an asphalt landing pad, enclosed fence, high-intensity lighting, a fire suppression system in case of an accidental fire, and a home beacon electrical lighting system to help guide landings.
Adding a hospital heliport became a priority as LMC’s volume of organ transplants has increased the past two years.
“Whether it is liver or kidney, which we have been doing for about three years, or the cardiac (transplant) that is coming, we are finding that when a helicopter lands here, there is so much equipment that comes with it, that trying to go through the grass, we just couldn’t do very well.”
LMC’s organ transplant procedures have increased with the addition of two specialized surgeons to its staff, Rudd said.
“We have a couple of surgeons who are two of the best in the country who specialize in complicated cardiac procedures, so we are getting patient transfers from all over the area to come here to get a complicated aneurism or cardiac case,” Rudd said.
LMC’s heart transplant program also moved forward in late 2018 with the hiring of cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Christiano Caldeira from Tampa General Hospital.
“It comes down to having the right physicians,” Rudd said. “When you get the right combination of physicians, everything fits in. For us, we got the right physicians in Dr. Caldeira, who came from Tampa General Hospital, and Dr. (Christopher) Stone, who trained at the Cleveland Heart Clinic in Weston.”
Owned by HCA Healthcare, LMC plans to recruit two additional surgeons to its organ transplant program, Rudd said.
HCA operates 50 hospitals in Florida with 15 within the central segment of the state.
LMC is also drawing upon the heart transplant expertise of its San Antonio sister hospital to help build up its own program.
“We are using their clinical protocols, their experts and things that they have been successful doing just to get our staff up to speed to feel comfortable with what is coming,” Rudd said.
In terms of its capital cost, Rudd described LMC’s transplant program as a “multimillion-dollar investment for beds, monitors and all the surgical equipment that you need.”
In addition to heart transplants, LMC’s expanded heart program will also provide previously unavailable cardiac procedures.
“It also brings along with it the more complicated cardiac procedures,” Rudd said. “You may not need a transplant, because these doctors can fix it where you won’t need one.”
One of those program add-ons is a “heart failure clinic” operated by two full-time specialty physicians.
“Think about how many people are in that heart failure category, and how do you control that, so it doesn’t lead to a cardiac condition that needs a transplant?” Rudd said. “This kind of completes the complement of cardiac services.”
The center’s Advanced Heart Failure Program will provide specialized cardiac medical care for patients suffering from heart disease.
LMC already performs other types of heart surgery such as LVAD to install a “left ventricular assisted device” that Rudd describes as a form of artificial heart transplant.
“It’s a device that keeps the heart pumping – actually, technically, it’s more difficult than a (heart) transplant,” he said.
In raising its organ transplant profile, LMC officials are banking on its cardiac transplant program drawing high-caliber health care professionals to work here.
“It raises our game at the hospital,” Rudd said. “You start attracting different clinicians when you start opening these high-end services, so that the physicians and the caregivers, the nurses will come because they want to get involved in these high-end cardiac services.”