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Oklahoma VA heart program temporarily closed after 5 deaths since October

Five heart patients at the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center died within 30 days of their surgeries, prompting the temporary closure of the hospital’s heart surgery program until a federal review is complete.

The deaths have been reported since October.

Dr. Mark Huycke, the chief of staff at the hospital, said in an email that expert reviews of recent deaths after heart surgery have been completed with “no concerns identified.”

“The cardiac surgery program is expected to resume full operations once the review is completed,” he said. “The VA takes pride in ensuring veterans receive top quality healthcare. This type of clinical review is a normal oversight function within the VA.”

The Oklahoma City VA Medical Center’s heart surgery program was halted in early June after hospital leaders and leaders from the regional VA network learned of a patient death following surgery, a spokeswoman with the federal VA said.

A total of 58 heart surgeries have been completed during the 2014 fiscal year, from October 2013 through this month, with five patients who died within 30 days of their surgeries.

Huycke said it’s difficult to assess expected mortality rates for cardiac cases, but he and an outside reviewer have looked at each of the five cases, he said. Neither found evidence of inappropriate care, he said.

The federal VA office review will include all aspects of the cardiac surgery program, including any recent deaths. It is expected to be completed within the month.

Huycke said cardiac surgery is a major surgery with known significant risks, including death.

The Oklahoma City VA Medical Center performs coronary bypass surgeries and heart valve replacements, among others, Huycke said.

The thoracic surgery program and the interventional cardiology program are operating normally during the pause in the cardiac surgery program, he said.

A Freedom of Information Act request from The Oklahoman was filed with the Oklahoma City VA Medical Center on June 13 regarding records related to the heart program’s temporary closure. Officials have yet to respond to the request.

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