RWJUH committed to uninterrupted service during nurses’ strike; Trenton man receives heart transplant

Heart transplantation is among the most complex procedures in medicine. Due to the fragile state of the patient from heart failure, a multidisciplinary team of experts across many health care professions is required. The highly specialized care required for a successful transplant continues well beyond the operating room.

But, on Aug. 4 — within the first 24 hours of its nurses strike — New Brunswick-based Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital’s Heart Transplant Team successfully performed a transplant.

The gift of life was received by a 52-year-old patient from Trenton. He was discharged from RWJUH after 10 days in the hospital’s state-of-the-art Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit and cardiovascular in-patient unit. He returned for a routine follow-up visit Aug. 16 and continues to recover well at home with his family.

The ability to accept donor organs and perform transplant procedures and supportive care was critical requirement when the hospital was confronted with a strike from its nurses.

Physician and nursing administrative leaders worked closely with national nursing agencies to ensure that RWJUH is ready to proceed when it receives a call regarding a donor organ match for patients in its heart, kidney and pancreas transplant programs.

This husband and father of three received a call that there was a viable organ for him on the afternoon of Aug. 3 — the day prior to the ongoing nursing strike.

“Performing this successful heart transplant demonstrates our team’s ability to provide uninterrupted, high-quality care and address the most medically complex cases during the nursing strike,” Dr. Andy Anderson, chief medical and quality officer for RWJBarnabas Health and RWJUH, said. “Patients and their families can be assured that, under the leadership of our medical staff, we will continue working closely with our current nursing team to provide seamless care across our all of our advanced adult and pediatric specialty care disciplines.”

The RWJUH team contacted the patient at 3 p.m. Aug. 3 when a matching donor heart from out of state was identified. The heart was scheduled to arrive the afternoon of Aug. 4, and the surgery took place that night. The successful surgery, which was performed by Dr. Hirohisa Ikegami, surgical director of the Heart Transplant Program, began at 5 p.m. and lasted about eight hours into the next day. The recipient is now under the care of Dr. Deepa Iyer, medical director of RWJUH’s ventricular assist device and program director of heart transplant, and Dr. Kenneth Dulnuan, advanced heart failure and transplant cardiologist at RWJUH. Throughout the process, the patient has been cared for by highly specialized nurses who stepped in thanks to national nursing agencies supporting RWJUH during the strike.

“The plight of our patients who wait on donor lists across the region is in our hands,” Alan Lee, president of Robert Wood Johnson University Hospital, said. “We will not let them down in any circumstance. I am grateful for the leadership of our transplant physician leaders and the transplant team for fulfilling our promise to this patient, and for the others who have received organ transplants during this strike. Their commitment to patients is inspiring.”

RWJUH’s program offers the full spectrum of care for end-stage heart failure patients, including durable left ventricular assist devices, access to clinical trials and Medicare-certified heart transplant services. RWJUH has dedicated a multidisciplinary team of physicians, nurse practitioners, nurse coordinators, pharmacists, a social worker and a nutritionist solely for the program.