Health & Medicine

University of Kentucky responds to CNN report on heart surgeries at Kentucky Children's Hospital

The University of Kentucky on Saturday responded to a CNN report about the decision to halt heart surgeries at Kentucky Children's Hospital.

The network interviewed the families of several babies who had heart surgeries at UK last year, identifying two babies who died.

CNN reported that 6-month-old Connor Wilson died Aug. 30 and 6-month-old Rayshawn Lewis-Smith died Oct. 16.

Two other families told CNN that their babies, Waylon Rainey and Jaxon Russell, experienced complications after heart surgeries at UK last fall.

The university has refused to release patient mortality rates and other data about its pediatric cardiothoracic program, and the parents of some babies who had surgery there last year told CNN that that concerns them.

Tabitha and Lucas Rainey told CNN that their baby boy, Waylon, struggled in the intensive care unit after having open heart surgery until a cardiologist took Tabitha Rainey aside and suggested that they move the baby to another hospital.

They arranged to transfer Waylon to the University of Michigan, and he has since recovered.

"We've not lost our child, and I thank God for that, but I'm standing up for the ones that have lost their kids — the moms that I've had to stand in the hallway with and try to console because they've lost their children," Tabitha Rainey said in the CNN report.

UK did not respond to questions about specific patient conditions referenced in the CNN report. In a statement Saturday afternoon, UK spokesman Jay Blanton said an internal review of the program is "ongoing and is expected to be completed soon."

"Academic medical centers that have received multiple designations from the National Institutes of Health share a common characteristic — they are constantly engaged in self-critical examination and are always striving to make their good programs better and their better programs into the best programs," Blanton said in the statement. "We recognized that our pediatric heart program needed to be better and we stopped surgeries temporarily while we worked to make it better. That is what great hospitals do."

The statement said UK officials hope to resume performing advanced pediatric heart surgeries in the future.

Dr. Mark Plunkett, director of UK's pediatric cardiac program, stopped performing surgeries last year but remained on staff with an annual $700,000 salary. UK has not explained why Plunkett stopped doing surgeries.

Plunkett resigned from UK effective Aug. 14 and accepted a job at the University of Florida.

The Herald-Leader and WUKY, the university's public radio station, have requested mortality rates for the pediatric cardiothoracic program under the state's Open Records Act, but UK has resisted, appealing a ruling by the state attorney general in Fayette Circuit Court. UK filed suit in April against Brenna Angel, a WUKY reporter who filed the open records request.

Blanton has said that UK's problem is not with Angel, but with the attorney general's decision, and that she was named because the attorney general could not be sued. Angel recently took a position in Mayor Jim Gray's office.

Related stories from Lexington Herald Leader