GRAND RAPIDS — More than a decade after performing the first adult heart transplant in Grand Rapids, Spectrum Health West Michigan wants to extend the procedure to children.
Preparations to start performing pediatric heart transplants at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital in downtown Grand Rapids next year came together after Spectrum Health built up the adult transplant program and grew pediatric cardiac care over several years.
The move would alleviate the need for pediatric patients and their families to leave the market for a heart transplant, just as the adult program did when it launched in 2010.
Spectrum Health’s present pediatric heart care “is one of our fundamental programs that is just foundational for this children’s hospital,” said Hossain Marandi, president of DeVos Children’s Hospital and department chair of pediatrics.
As the hospital looked at areas to grow, performing pediatric heart transplants “was extremely important,” Marandi said.
“We have a very strong program on the adult side. It only makes sense to create that comprehensive program for West Michigan and beyond by adding pediatric to it so patients can come here and be able to get that care from the beginning and all the way throughout as they grow up,” he said. “We see ourselves as a servant of the community, and what the community looks for when they walk through the doors at Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital is to be able to get that care and get that care close to home, and we owe them to provide that service.”
Continuity of care
Spectrum Health — temporarily named BHSH System following a merger with Beaumont Health — typically refers five to 10 pediatric patients elsewhere each year for a heart transplant. Doing pediatric heart transplants in Grand Rapids would give families local access to a high degree of pre- and ongoing post-surgical care that continues for a lifetime, rather than regularly travel elsewhere, which “is just going to be a game-changer for those families,” Marandi said.
DeVos Children’s Hospital aims to begin pediatric heart transplants in Grand Rapids within a year to a year and a half, Marandi said.
As well, providing pediatric heart transplants locally creates a greater continuity of care for patients.
Young patients and their families who built trust with a care team over a period of time would no longer have that relationship disrupted by going to another medical center when their heart deteriorates to where they need a transplant, said Dr. James Hammel, a pediatric cardiothoracic surgeon at DeVos Children’s Hospital who will serve as chief of the pediatric cardiac transplant program.
“It’s not just the physical distance to the transplant center that’s important,” Hammel said. “Imagine that you’re a child 5 years old, they’ve had four open-heart operations, (and) some have gone well and some have been a struggle. You really know the team and you really know the hospital and you’re comfortable with them. Then you come to a point where you need to go to transplantation, and to have your child and all of their care uprooted and transferred to another care team, I think, has been terrifying for families.”
Spectrum Health this spring filed a letter of intent informing the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services of plans to launch the service. The health system seeks to launch pediatric heart transplants under the certificate of need approval received in February 2010 to perform adult transplants.
DeVos Children’s Hospital’s capabilities in pediatric heart surgeries to fix valves and arteries or address other issues have “evolved very significantly” over the last seven or eight years, Hammel said. As the hospital’s capabilities grew, expanding into transplants for a pediatric patient whose heart is failing “is just a very natural evolution of the pediatric cardiac program” that can draw patients to Grand Rapids, Hammel said.
“This is a natural next step in the evolution of the program’s capabilities,” he said. “The population of children who can be served by transplantation is growing and 10 years from now I see it growing quite significantly from here.”
Spectrum Health is one of four heart transplant centers in Michigan that performed a combined total of 103 procedures in 2020, according to the most recent data available.
Since its first adult heart transplant in November 2010, Spectrum Health has gone on to perform 189 procedures, including 22 each in 2021 and 2020, said Dr. Ryan Grayburn, an advanced heart failure cardiologist and medical director for the adult transplant program.
“We’re still the newest program in Michigan, but now we’re at the point where we’re just looking to grow. We have the facilities and we have the talent that we need, now we’re just trying to grow our volumes,” Grayburn said. “We feel like we’re a little gem here. Our quality is just as good as any other center in the country.”
Pediatric heart transplants in Michigan are presently performed at University of Michigan Health’s C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital in Ann Arbor and Detroit Medical Center’s Children’s Hospital of Michigan.