A Life-Saving Treatment Returns

by Laura Nightengale
OSF HealthCare

Bringing the heart transplant program back to Peoria will be invaluable for patients. 

When OSF HealthCare Saint Francis Medical Center re-establishes its heart transplant program this year, it will become the only medical center in downstate Illinois to offer this life-saving treatment. “The pinnacle of prestige in cardiology programs is having the ability to perform heart transplants,” says Dr. Barry Clemson, who oversees heart failure treatment for OSF HealthCare Cardiovascular Institute.

Building the Team
Dr. Clemson was a part of the previous heart transplant program at OSF Saint Francis, which started in the 1980s but was discontinued in 2006 amid physician retirements and decreasing patient volumes. He has been instrumental in re-establishing the program, which has meant building a team of highly trained physicians to perform the transplants and provide pre-operative and post-operative care. The program will serve not just Peoria, but patients throughout the OSF HealthCare Ministry, which spans much of Illinois and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.

“The opportunity to bring back a program that was really, really successful and had a long history is a challenge,” Dr. Clemson explains. “But it’s also a wonderful opportunity to bring something like this back to central Illinois and all of the patients that we serve.”

The former heart transplant team at OSF Saint Francis performed 197 heart transplants, and many patients survived more than 10 and even 20 years after their operations. In fact, the first patient to receive a heart transplant at OSF Saint Francis is now 85 years old, her donor heart still strong more than 31 years later.

“This program is going to be invaluable—not just in this community, but throughout the entire state,” notes Dr. Mike Cruz, chief operating officer of OSF HealthCare. “Families who would otherwise be traveling to major cities, perhaps over long distances and staying there for weeks at a time, will now have the option to receive the highest level of care right here in Peoria.”

A Comprehensive Approach
As treatments for heart failure have evolved, patient outcomes have steadily improved, with increasing numbers of patients living decades after their operations. Bringing this service back to Peoria will provide a much-needed option for families as rates of heart failure diagnoses are expected to rise. 

 “The way I look at heart failure is it’s a disease that slowly takes over your life,” says Dr. Emmanuel Amulraj. A cardiac surgeon who specializes in heart transplants, Dr. Amulraj will serve as surgical director of the heart transplant program, which he sees as one component of a comprehensive approach to treating, managing and ultimately preventing heart failure.

“Heart failure is a real problem. It is something that needs recognition from patients, and even as physicians, we need to be more educated about it,” Dr. Amulraj said. “By bringing a team together, we have a better chance at getting a handle on this disease and giving patients a better quality of life.” iBi

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