UTAH Cardiac, one of the best heart-transplant teams in the world, may be getting back together.

In the middle-1980s, the program was initiated to provide better heart transplant care. Cardiologists and thoracic surgeons from University Hospital, LDS Hospital, the Veterans Administration Hospital and Primary Children's Medical Center joined forces to achieve phenomenal success.Through 1991, the team performed 421 transplants, with a 90 percent one-year survival rate, and an 85 percent five-year survival rate. Nationally, survival for one year averages 82 percent; for five years it's 67 percent.

But in January 1992, the team broke up, largely because of questions about antitrust rules. At the time, the office of then-Attorney General Paul Van Dam initiated an antitrust investigation of connections between University Hospital and Primary Children's Medical Center.

The U.S. Justice Department then got involved, launching a far-reaching investigation. But late this year, the department determined it wouldn't pursue any criminal charges, and the investigation apparently ended.

Now that the antitrust probe seems resolved, the hospitals are discussing reassembling UTAH Cardiac. But because some doctors may have left the area, it is doubtful that the team's makeup would be exactly the same.

"There've been some ongoing discussions over the last few months," said John K. Morris, counsel to University of Utah President Arthur K. Smith.

"I think there's great interest on all sides in putting that program back together. I think everybody thinks it's been a good program for the community.

"I'm very hopeful - I think everybody's very hopeful - but it is not yet a done deal. There are some legal issues, the same kinds of issues that caused the program to come together in the first place."

In addition, Morris said, other questions involve logistics, such as how the doctors will get together.

"I'm quite optimistic (the team will reassemble), but I don't want to convey the idea that it's done, because it isn't," he said.

Morris said that if the joint venture is put together, it could begin operating in a month or two.

The team didn't completely disintegrate, because physicians at Primary Children's Medical Center and the Veterans Administration Hospital continued to cooperate with University Hospital. This is because physicians at all three places are members of the university faculty.

Meanwhile, LDS Hospital and University Hospital fielded independent transplant teams, which necessitated duplication.

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The interest in putting the program together again is partly because the antitrust questions have been cleared up, and partly because of the value of the joint effort.

Jess Gomez, spokesman for LDS Hospital, said discussions have taken place, but because nothing has been finalized, "it would be premature to comment on the program at this point.

"However, at the time the U. pulled out of the consortium, we have said we would be open to the possibility of reuniting the program," he said.

That was because LDS Hospital officials believe "a combined heart transplant program that utilizes resources and medical expertise clearly benefits the community both in terms of quality and cost-effectiveness," Gomez said.

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