MADISON, Wis. — A new pediatric heart transplant program at the American Family Children’s Hospital is up and running via the UW Health Transplant Center, UW Health announced Thursday.
The UW Health Transplant Center is the only center in Wisconsin that is certified by United Network for Organ Sharing and actively performs pediatric heart, kidney, liver, lung and pancreas transplants. Nationwide, it’s one of six centers offering all of those transplant procedures for both adults and children.
“Our pediatric cardiologists were caring for a rising number of kids who required heart transplantation, and their families wanted to stay at UW Health,” Dr. Dixon Kaufman said. “As one of the nation’s leading transplant centers, we knew it was time to combine our expertise in pediatric heart care and transplant and open our own program.” Kaufman is the medical director at UW Health Transplant Center, and a professor of surgery at the University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.
In March 2023, UNOS certified the program, which allows the team at American Family Children’s Hospital to use ventricular assist devices — which helps with cardiac circulation — for kids “needing that level of support to either help their heart recover or allow the time needed to wait for a new heart.”
“Our vision is to provide high-quality care to children who need a ventricular assist device or new heart,” Dr. Joshua Hermsen said. “This program will allow us to provide the life-sustaining gift of transplant to many of our patients in need.” Hermsen is the surgical director of the pediatric heart transplant program at UW Health Kids and an associate professor of surgery at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.
Hermsen, Dr. Sonya Kirmani and Dr. Charlie Bergstrom will lead the transplant team. Kirmani is the medical director of the pediatric heart transplant program at UW Health Kids and an assistant professor of pediatrics at UW School of Medicine and Public Health. Bergstrom is the critical care director of the pediatric heart transplant program at UW Health Kids and an assistant professor of pediatrics at the UW School of Medicine and Public Health.
The program will increase health care access for Wisconsin kids, as well as kids across the region. Patients who were being referred to other centers in different parts of the country can get care closer to home.
“Families will no longer need to relocate, change jobs, meet a new care team or navigate a new health care system, and cope with the stress that comes with those changes,” Kirmani said. “As patients age, we can be there to guide their transition into adulthood and help them learn how to manage their own care.”
Since UW Health performed its first pediatric transplant in 1967, almost 600 kids have received transplants though the UW Health Transplant Center. Since 1973, the center has performed more than 900 heart transplants on adults.
“Having a heart transplant is a lifelong commitment and care goes far beyond the initial transplant surgery,” Kirmani said. “I am excited that we can now offer family-centered, individualized care to our youngest patients from a team that they already know and trust.”