UK Releases Sought After Pediatric Heart Surgery Mortality Rates

Reported by: Aaron Adelson
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Updated: 8/09/2013 6:54 pm

UK did an about face. 

After refusing to release the mortality rates for its pediatric heart surgery program to patients' parents, the public, the state Attorney General, and the media, including ABC36 News, the numbers came out Friday.

The families of patients who became suspicious something at the hospital was terribly wrong, finally got what they were looking for.

We first contacted UK about this story Tuesday night.  Thursday, we filed an Open Records request with the University of Kentucky. 

We asked for the mortality rates from its pediatric cardiothoracic surgery program, which the hospital went to court to keep private.

Friday morning, a University spokesperson told us a response isn't due back until next week.  We told the spokesperson our story is airing Friday, and we would like UK to comment.

To our surprise, 30 minutes later UK released the information we asked for.

UK acknowledges public pressure to release the figures. 

Tabitha Rainey helped to apply the pressure.  She started a petition. 

For her, it's personal.

Last fall, a UK surgeon performed heart surgery on her son Waylon.  He was seven-day- old, and he stayed in the hospital for three-months. 

"We had a nurse tell us that we should move our son.  'What was her tone like?  How did she say that?'  Just tat we should move him.  That it shouldn't take this long for him to recover," said Rainey.

UK says it halted the pediatric cardiothoracic surgery program in October.  Waylon was in the hospital at the time, but Rainey says the hospital staff didn't tell her until December.

"They already had a child in-paitent who was critical, and a possible emergency may arise, and they didn't have the means to do what they needed to, because the program was shut down," said Rainey.

She took her son to a hospital in Michigan, and says he started recovering immediately.

After her experience, she demanded the mortality rates for the last three years, and got more than she asked for from UK, but she does not feel satisfied.

"Why was the program shut down?  Yea, that is the big one," said Rainey.

UK says it put the program on-hold to take it from good to great.  Rainey doesn't think her son even got adequate care.

The Rainey's aren't alone.  Shannon Russell was also suspicious of what was going on at the hospital.

"Three other families there at the same time we were.  One of them ended up passing away, the other two had complications.  One of them we know of in-depth," said Shannon Russell.

At 5-days-old, UK's pediatric cardiothoracic surgeons operated on the Russell's son, Jaxon. 

Going in they knew he would need more surgery.  The Russell's took Jaxon elsewhere for a second surgery.  It lasted nine-hours. 

Afterwards, Russell says the surgeon asked him how many times Jaxon had been opened up?

"We kind of both looked at each other like why would you ask that?  The reason for the question was there was so much scar tissue and infection left that it almost appeared as if he was opened up more than one time," said Russell.

He says the new surgeons also found a small hole in Jaxon's heart that UK's doctors didn't find.

"He was totally opened up, and they'd done a complete surgery on him, so how would you miss that," asked Russell.

We couldn't ask UK about these claims.  A UK spokesperson said nobody would be available to speak with us on-camera. 

Here are the numbers UK fought to keep private.

According to UK, the mortality rates are in-line with national averages.  From 2008 to 2012, the mortality rate was 5.8%.

UK reports a high of 7.1%, and a low of 4.5%.

The families say the numbers UK released are not good enough.  They don't just want the percentages, they want the actual numbers of deaths.

In February, 2011 UK announced it was celebrating its 500th pediatric heart surgery.

The release said Dr. Mark Plunkett performed that milestone surgery.

He is the Chief of pediatric cardiothoracic surgery.  UK says he resigned effective August, 14th.

We asked why?  A UK spokesperson says he could not speak for Doctor Plunkett.

We e-mailed Plunkett, and have not heard back.
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