This browser is out of date.
To ensure this website functions properly,
please upgrade your browser
or use a different one.

June 8, 2023

UW Health Transplant Center announces pediatric heart transplant program

Only center in the Midwest actively transplanting five major organs in adults and kids

MADISON, Wis. – The UW Health Transplant Center has launched a pediatric heart transplant program at American Family Children’s Hospital, strengthening the institution’s comprehensive offering of organ transplants and expanding regional access to this specialized level of care for children.

The UW Health Transplant Center is one of just six centers in the nation, and the only one in the Midwest, that is actively transplanting the heart, kidney, liver, lung and pancreas for adults and kids, according to Dr. Dixon Kaufman, medical director, UW Health Transplant Center, and professor of surgery, University of Wisconsin School of Medicine and Public Health.

“Our pediatric cardiologists were caring for a rising number of kids who required heart transplantation, and their families wanted to stay at UW Health,” 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.”

This program received certification by the United Network for Organ Sharing in March 2023. The certification also allows the program at American Family Children’s Hospital to begin using ventricular assist devices for children needing that level of support to either help their heart recover or allow the time needed to wait for a new heart.

The transplant team will be led by Drs. Joshua Hermsen, surgical director of the pediatric heart transplant program, UW Health Kids, and associate professor of surgery, UW School of Medicine and Public Health; Sonya Kirmani, medical director of the pediatric heart transplant program, UW Health Kids, and assistant professor of pediatrics, UW School of Medicine and Public Health; and Charlie Bergstrom, critical care director of the pediatric heart transplant program, UW Health Kids, and assistant professor of pediatrics, UW School of Medicine and Public Health.

“Our vision is to provide high-quality care to children who need a ventricular assist device or new heart,” Hermsen said. “This program will allow us to provide the life-sustaining gift of transplant to many of our patients in need.”

The launch of this program means more patients who previously had to be referred to other centers around the country can remain closer to home in Wisconsin, according to Kirmani.

“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.”

The first-ever pediatric transplant at UW Health occurred in 1967, and since then, nearly 600 children have received transplants at the UW Health Transplant Center. The center has a long and successful history with heart transplants in adults, performing more than 900 heart transplants for people from Wisconsin and across the nation since 1973.

The multi-disciplinary pediatric heart transplant team consists of expert coordinators and experienced professionals in intensive care, pediatric cardiac anesthesia, nutrition, social work, pharmacy and other specialists to serve the needs of children in advanced heart failure and post-heart transplantation. They work closely with the more than 100 care team members of UW Organ and Tissue Donation as well as the histocompatibility laboratory, which provides testing to determine organ donor and recipient compatibility.

“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.”