HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - Just weeks after a long-standing organ transplant program ended when Hawaii Medical Center shut down, the program is being transplanted to the Queen's Medical Center, thanks in part to a bill that was fast-tracked through this year's legislative session.
Gov. Neil Abercrombie signed the bill in a laboratory at Queen's Saturday. The room was a little cramped, but it was a significant setting for the bill to become law.
"What we're doing is responding to what the community says, not only what they want to have take place, but the opportunities that have been made available as a result of everybody's effort," the governor told the gathering.
Under the law, the state will give $1.5 million to Queen's and $300,000 to the National Kidney Foundation of Hawaii. The money will be subject to matching private funds.
The new law is good news for more than 400 people in Hawaii on the list for an organ transplant, who faced the prospect of having to go to the mainland for surgery.
"We got on the list in November of last year," said Pearl City resident Miles Okano, who needs a new kidney. "It just so happened that just about the same time St. Francis closed down."
The Queen's Transplant Center will replace the facility established by St. Francis, which later became Hawaii Medical Center. It shut down in January.
Lawmakers reworked a bill that was introduced last year by Rep. Ryan Yamane (D-Mililani, Waipio Gentry) and moved it quickly this year.
"I was very happy with the help of the governor and the senate and speaker (Calvin) Say that we were able to fast-track this bill and negotiate the contract so that way, we have this needed money to help support opening this organ transplant center on behalf of all the people of Hawaii," Yamane said.
"Through the organ transplant program, thousands of lives have been saved. And we want to continue that tradition of commitment to the community by preserving this program," said Queen's Medical Center president Art Uchijima.
Queen's has already hired 16 employees to support the new center and is working as quickly as possible to get things up and running.
"The program was operational at St. Francis for 40 years," said Dr. Whitney Limm, Queen's vice president for clinical integration. "And it's been seven weeks since the transfer to Queen's. So we still have some catch-up to do, but we're hoping that within a month we'll be ready to perform our first transplant."
Queen's Medical Center has already received approval to perform liver transplants, and is awaiting approval for kidney, pancreas and heart transplants.
Uchijima noted that having a transplant center at Queen's will be a money-losing proposition. "The cost of the program as we projected it over five years will be over $40 million, with an operating loss that we project of over $7 million," he said. "It was carefully considered, but ultimately it was our focus on patients first."
"This is like a door opening again," said Michael Kan, who's waiting for a kidney transplant. "I have at least the possibility of getting a transplant, and the possibility of leading a normal life after the transplant."