Facebook Twitter



Robert Ipson has become a true believer in Christmas miracles.

Two months ago, the 52-year-old West Jordan man, dying of irreversible heart disease, was unable to secure $115,000 to undergo heart-transplant surgery at LDS Hospital.But with the Christmas season came miracles.

A few days ago, when Ipson was hospitalized for treatment of the flu, one or more anonymous donors came forward with the money needed for the life-saving transplant.

Then, again miraculously, on Christmas Eve, a matching donor organ became available.

Following four hours of surgery, a healthier heart was beating in Ipson's chest.

Hospital officials said Monday that, like most heart-transplant patients, Ipson will remain listed in critical condition in the hospital's thoracic intensive-care unit for several days.

Chances are good that the Utahn, whose family might otherwise have been planning Christmastime funeral services, will resume a normal life.

The UTAH Cardiac Transplant Program, a consortium that includes LDS Hospital, the Salt Lake Veterans Administration Medical Center, University of Utah Health Sciences Center and Primary Children's Medical Center, has one of the highest survival rates in the country.

Like others around the country, the local program, however, is hindered by lack of available donor hearts and by patients' inability to pay for transplant procedures. Many insurance companies don't cover transplants.

Dr. Suzanne Dandoy, executive director, Utah Department of Health, recently gave transplant patients new hope. Dandoy rejected an advisory committee's recommendation to stop Medicaid funding for bone marrow and liver transplants.

The committee, conscious of skyrocketing medical costs, said the elimination of coverage for the transplants would save approximately $250,000 in state money. With federal matching money, the amount totals about $1 million.

Dandoy has asked the advisory committee to set priorities for all expensive surgical procedures covered by Medicaid. Until such time _ at least through July _ Utah will continue to pay for some organ transplants.

Heart-transplant coverage, however, has not been and will not be included.

Health department officials said they asked Gov. Norm Bangerter to include $250,000 in his budget to help heart-transplant patients meet their expenses. The governor's preliminary budget, however, did not include the request.

Hospitals that have borne part of the costs of transplants, have tightened their financial criteria, citing financial problems of their own. LDS Hospital officials say they already provide an average of $7,000 per day in charity care and can no longer absorb the costs of heart transplants.

Ipson gained public attention by being the first known Utah cardiac patient denied a transplant because of his inability to pay.