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Halted After Deaths, Kids' Heart Surgeries Resume At Kentucky Hospital

Mon, 01/20/2014 - 3:40am
Elizabeth Cohen

Joequetta Lewis got to hold her newborn son for 53 days.

"And then the next day," she said, "he was gone."

Rayshawn Lewis-Smith was one of five babies known to have died within 11 months of undergoing heart surgery at Kentucky Children's Hospital in Lexington -- surgeries that, nationally, babies usually survive.

"He was born, and he looked as healthy as any of my other children," said Sarah Moore, whose son Jaxon was the first to die. "I held him. And then three weeks later, I was burying him."

Shortly after the fifth death in 2012, Kentucky Children's decided to stop its heart surgeries and placed its only pediatric heart surgeon on leave.

At the time, the babies' parents said, they didn't receive any explanation. And today, they're still waiting for answers.

"Something happened," Lewis said. "Can't nobody give me no answers."

But now, pediatric heart surgeries are resuming at Kentucky Children's Hospital -- without any reported investigation by the state health department and without oversight by anyone.

There seems to be no medical governing body that needs to sign off on the decision to reopen the heart surgery unit.

"The only person I need permission from is me," said Dr. Michael Karpf, executive vice president for health affairs at the University of Kentucky's health care system, which includes Kentucky Children's Hospital.

Last year, Karpf said, he put the pediatric heart surgery program on hold because the mortality rates weren't what he wanted them to be.

"They were OK, and OK isn't good enough for me," he said at the time. "It's got to be better. It's got to be good."

Karpf commissioned an internal report (PDF) on the heart surgery program. Parents of the dead babies hoped that might provide them with some information.

But the 102-page report doesn't explain why the babies died. In fact, it doesn't acknowledge any deaths at all.

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