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Former Top Heart Transplant Hospital Cited by Government for Abnormally High Death Rate

St. Luke's Health Medical Center Baylor

A joint effort by the Houston Chronicle and ProPublica has shared disturbing news of a former top heart transplant center’s failure rate. In January, the Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) cited Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center in Houston, Texas for having twice the expected number of deaths between 2014-2016 in post transplant patients. CMS has given the facility until August to improve their outcomes before they are deemed ineligible to receive federal funding. The citation caught the attention of the Houston Chronicle, who began asking questions of former cardiologists, transplant patients and the loved ones of those patients who had died at the facility. Investigative journalists also spoke to patients with success stories. However, despite several successes, the number of fatal mistakes and omissions of truth made by the surgical team, and in particular its lead surgeon, Dr. Jeffrey Morgan, are astonishing.

Hospital Acquisition the Beginning of Turmoil
Baylor St. Luke’s, the adult teaching hospital for Baylor College of Medicine, has long been seen as one of the best heart transplant centers in the country. Some of the first heart transplants ever performed were done at the hospital in the 1960s, and the surgeon credited with surgically implanting one of the first LVADs (Left Ventricle Assisted Device) is the founder of the heart transplant program at the hospital. For decades the facility enjoyed a reputation as one of the top heart transplant centers in the country, if not the world. Patients would travel from all over to be treated there, and the hospital’s website features their doctors bragging about the hospital’s accomplishments. But most of those were in the past.

In 2013, things began going downhill for Baylor St. Luke’s. The hospital was acquired by Catholic Health Initiatives and as with many acquisitions, layoffs began. But some top clinical staff members began leaving voluntarily, including several well-known cardiologists.  A few were willing to speak on the record for the article, including one physician who left the hospital last year after asking administrators to initiate an external review of the new lead transplant surgeon, Dr. Jeffrey Morgan. Concerned about the number of deaths at the hands of Dr. Morgan, she began referring her patients elsewhere for heart treatment.

Doctor with Pending Medical Malpractice Lawsuits Hired to Lead St. Luke’s Transplant Program
Morgan was hired from Detroit’s Henry Ford Hospital in January 2016 under the official title of Chief of Cardiothoracic Transplantation and Circulatory Support.

In 2015, Baylor St. Luke’s had experienced a rough year, losing a record number of heart transplant patients. Dr. Morgan had only performed 18 transplants in his career at Henry Ford and was seemingly as interested in the academic aspect of medicine as he was in the actual practice of it. He has two pending lawsuits against him from his tenure at Henry Ford, yet still was hired to helm the heart transplant program at St. Luke’s. Dr. Morgan was also tapped to perform lung transplants, a surgical-specialty combination that is an extremely rare occurrence. After a few botched lung transplants at St. Luke’s, administrators decided to put Morgan on just heart transplant cases. While Morgan says that the number of referrals to their program have gone up each year since he was hired, he has left behind a large number devastated loved ones of his former patients, including one who said she wouldn’t want her worst enemy to be treated there.

Widow Receives Anonymous Letter Faulting Doctor for Husband’s Death
David Kveton died in January 2017 at age 64 after a heart transplant performed by Dr. Morgan. Immediately following the surgery, Dr. Morgan told his now-widow, Judy Kveton, and 3 family members that the surgery had gone fine. However, Morgan claims he told them that David Kveton was seriously ill and on a lot of blood pressure medications. After a harrowing week that included 2 strokes and multiple surgeries, David Kveton died. The same doctor who many years prior had performed one of the first LVAD implantations called Judy Kveton to ask if they could perform an autopsy. He was not involved in her husband’s surgeries, but was still academically involved with the hospital. He told her they hadn’t lost a patient so soon post-transplant in at least 30 years. She agreed. Mrs. Kveton wasn’t told the results of the autopsy until she hired a medical malpractice attorney to fight the hospital for the release of the records. She likely would not have hired an attorney had it not been for an anonymous letter she received in the mail less than 2 months after her husband’s death.

Mrs. Kveton says the letter told her that Dr. Jeffrey Morgan “has had mishap after mishap and shouldn’t have been allowed to operate.” The letter also said the hospital’s heart transplant outcome rankings had fallen to among the worst in the country.  After obtaining the autopsy records, Mrs. Kveton learned that surgeons were concerned about the amount of time the donor heart was in transit and in holding. The autopsy also revealed the donor heart showed signs of a prior heart attack. Why would surgeons have ever transplanted a potentially damaged heart into her husband?

A Survivor Faces a Lifetime of Side Effects
Less than a week after Mr. Kveton’s funeral, Morgan performed another surgery on a man named Lazerick Eskridge. His results were horrific. Complications from the surgery have led to a lifetime of kidney dialysis and blood thinners, something Mr. Eskridge and his wife believed were just side effects of an otherwise successful heart transplant. However, after they became concerned about the amount of time it was taking Mr. Eskridge to improve, they asked his primary cardiologist to review his hospital records from the surgery. The cardiologist told the Eskridge’s that Dr. Jeffrey Morgan had closed a major vein during the transplant (presumably an accident, although Morgan argues otherwise), forcing him to perform a last minute procedure that fused a smaller vein to Lazerick Eskridge’s implanted donor heart. The smaller vein is now susceptible to blood clots, requiring Mr. Eskridge to take daily blood thinners. They were never informed of the reason behind the need for the medication.

Patients and Loved Ones Deserve the Truth
We all know any surgery carries risks. It’s the reason why we are to be told of the potential complications involved with surgical procedures and asked to sign that we acknowledge these risks as they have been explained to us. But what happens when something goes wrong during surgery and the medical team doesn’t disclose what happened? Our inherent reaction is to trust the surgeon treating us or our loved one. It is only after something goes wrong and we’re left to process it that many begin to ask questions. Despite it being your body or that of your loved one, medical records and hospital records can be extremely difficult to obtain. It is a requirement under HIPAA (Health Information Portability Protection Act) that individuals and authorized users have access to their medical records, but that doesn’t mean hospitals easily part with them. Even when you’re fortunate enough to receive the records, medical jargon and notations can be overwhelming and difficult to understand. A skilled medical malpractice attorney has a team of medical experts who can review records and help determine what happened.

For over 25 years, the Chicago medical malpractice attorneys of Levin & Perconti have dedicated themselves to standing up for victims of surgical and other medical errors. We have recovered nearly $700 million in verdicts and settlements for tragedies resulting from negligently performed surgeries, child birth complications, and inadequate hospital and nursing home care. Consultations with our attorneys are always free and confidential. We do not get paid unless we can recover money for you. Please, contact us now to see how we can help.

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