Donations help Spectrum heart program

July 11, 2010
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Spectrum Health last week announced the long-anticipated establishment of a heart institute and the hiring of an internationally known surgeon to oversee its new heart transplant program.

England’s Dr. Asghar Khaghani, regarded as an international expert, will become lead surgeon for Spectrum Health’s new heart transplant program, which received state approval earlier this year.

Khaghani is a colleague of retired Dr. Magdi Yacoub, who performed a heart transplant on Amway co-founder Richard DeVos in England in 1997. DeVos and his wife, Helen, have provided “a major gift” to endow Khaghani’s compensation, and Spectrum said it is naming the transplant program after DeVos, a member of the health system’s board.

Treatment, research and education will converge at the Frederik Meijer Heart and Cardiovascular Institute, which was announced this week along with an undisclosed gift from Fred and Lena Meijer to support it.

The heart institute will work with Van Andel Institute and the Michigan State University College of Human Medicine, and launch a heart disease prevention initiative.

Khaghani brings a strong career in research to Grand Rapids, as well. He has published more than 130 papers and book chapters, is a member of the board of directors of the Magdi Yacoub Institute, has given more than 200 presentations and lectures, and served as principal investigator on Left Ventricular Assist Devices, which Spectrum began to offer last year.

Heart transplants affect only a few patients; for example, Spectrum referred 19 patients for transplant evaluation outside of West Michigan in 2008 and has about 30 patients with LVADs, a portable device often used as a bridge to a transplant.

But nearly 900 patients underwent open heart procedures in 2009 and 972 in 2008, according to the hospital, and it counted 2,204 discharges for angioplasty, allowing the institute’s work to touch many other people.

A total of 70 heart doctors, including 30 who became hospital employees in January when West Michigan Heart merged into Spectrum, will work together under the umbrella of Spectrum Health’s new Frederik Meijer Heart and Vascular Institute, the health system announced last week.

Treatment, education and research will converge at the new institute in Spectrum’s Frederik and Lena Meijer Heart Center in Grand Rapids, said Dr. Richard McNamara, a cardiologist who is sharing interim medical director duties with cardiothoracic surgeon Dr. Lawrence Patzelt.

“Before, it was a building. Now, it’s a program,” McNamara said.

Plans for the institute were under way long before West Michigan Heart doctors joined Spectrum Health Jan. 1, said Suzette Jaskie, WMH’s former CEO who now will serve as executive administrative director of the institute. She said it was shaped by health care reform and reimbursement changes that emphasize an integration of the various components of health care.

“There’s also cardiovascular surgeons, there’s interventional radiology, there’s cardiothoracic surgeons, and there’s cardiologists that aren’t part of West Michigan Heart … that are all going to be joining together to create a consistent approach to cardiovascular care in our region,” she said.

McNamara said doctors believe patients will benefit from a coordinated approach to care, and he holds up the Mayo Clinic as the example he’d like the institute to emulate.

“We really want to push cardiovascular care here to the next level,” he said. “We’ve always talked about these three pillars of what it takes to be a leading institution, and that’s clinical care, research and education. This is going to allow us to level those three players so we can really build this platform.”

He said the development of the heart transplant program and Khaghani’s anticipated September arrival “will make everybody else strong by raising the bar.”

Khaghani is a cardiothoracic surgery consultant at Royal Brompton & Harefield MHS Foundation Trust in England. He will work with West Michigan Cardiothoracic Surgeons in performing and overseeing transplants in Grand Rapids.

A native of Tabriz, Iran, Khaghani received a medical degree from Istanbul University in 1972. He trained at various locations in Great Britain until 1981, when he settled at Harefield Hospital near Uxbridge, England, with Yacoub as his mentor. Yacoub pioneered many heart and lung transplant techniques.

Khaghani has performed more than 1,000 heart transplants and more than 5,000 cardiovascular surgeries, and is an international expert in assist devices.

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