Meet Spectrum Health’s New Surgical Director for Heart Transplant and VAD Programs

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GRAND RAPIDS, MI – Cardiothoracic surgeon and transplant specialist, Dr. Marzia Leacche will become the Surgical Director of Spectrum Health’s Richard DeVos Ventricular Assist and Heart Transplant Device on January 1 for its Richard Heart and Lung Transplant Program Of yours.

Leacche, who has been on the transplant team since 2016, is the first woman to hold this role at Spectrum. Officials say this is quite rare in a traditionally male dominated profession.

“A comprehensive research process was conducted by a multidisciplinary committee, which evaluated internal and external applicants,” said Dr. Darryl Elmouchi, president of Spectrum Health West Michigan, in a Nov. 20 press release on Leacche. “We are delighted to have excellent talent within our program in the person of Dr. Leacche, who is highly qualified to take on this important leadership role. We look forward to the vision and leadership she will bring to this position. “

Leacche has extensive experience and training in thoracic organ transplantation and cardiac surgery. After completing her cardiac surgery training in Rome in 2001, Spectrum says she received further training in cardiac surgery, transplantation and mechanical circulatory support at centers of excellence including the Montreal Heart Institute, the Brigham and Women’s Hospital and Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

From 2010 to 2016, Leacche worked as a cardiac surgeon and transplant associate at Vanderbuilt University Medical Center, Brigham and Women’s Hospital, and the Cleveland Clinic.

The incoming surgical director will replace Dr Theodore Boeve, who served as the surgical director of the heart transplant program since 2017. He will remain on staff as a transplant surgeon until the summer of 2022.

“I want to express my gratitude to Dr Boeve. We appreciate his help throughout this transition and his continued support for our program, ”said Elmouchi. “Under his leadership, our heart transplant and MCS programs have seen tremendous growth and improvement in quality scores, research contributions and teamwork.”

Leacche, who received her medical degree from the University of Rome “La Sapienza”, is the author of over 112 peer-reviewed research articles. She is also leading a national group of left ventricular assistive device (LVAD) surgeons to advance the implementation of minimally invasive LVAD.

Dr. Leacche recently agreed to a question-and-answer session with MLive about her new position and the future of the transplant program. Below are his answers:

Q: What is your medical background and how did it prepare you for this new role?

A: In addition to my experience with several centers of excellence, the last six years specializing in transplants for mechanical circulatory assistance have been vital in working with this program. I have also helped implement various structural changes to the program over the past three to four years, which has given me a good understanding of how to take a leadership role for the program. Leadership is a journey, not a destination. So, over the past year, I have focused on orientation through leadership training and coaching.

Q. What does it mean to you to have been named Spectrum’s first female surgical director in a predominantly male profession?

A: It is an honor and a privilege to know how rare this is not only for Spectrum Health but in the country. Less than 7% of people performing cardiovascular surgery are women, and even fewer insert heart-lung devices. There are probably less than five female directors in the country. Working in various environments like Harvard Medical School and the Cleveland Clinic inspired me. So I would like to see even more diversity in the medical field. Regardless of race, gender, or other credentials, I hope to appoint talented staff and leaders to continue Spectrum’s path of breaking ceilings.

Q: What is your main goal when starting this position?

A: My main priorities are to develop the program by increasing the number of procedures performed and increasing the value for the patients, i.e. the quality of service divided by the cost. We currently do about 20 transplants per year and 30-50 assistive devices, but I would like us to serve more patients while achieving national recognition as a leader in the treatment of advanced heart failure.

Q: How is the coronavirus pandemic affecting the operating room?

A: Western Michigan was not badly affected during the lockdown phase of the COVID-19 pandemic in March compared to other parts of the state. At that point, Spectrum put the transplants on hold for about two to three weeks, then resumed with new safety procedures in place. Now that the number of cases is on the rise again, surgical staff have postponed elective surgeries. A number of patients have also chosen to postpone their surgery due to growing concerns. As Spectrum surgeons continue to perform surgeries safely, we have strict guidelines in place to restrict the number of people entering and leaving the hospital.

Q: What other challenges is Spectrum facing as a result of the pandemic?

A: Spectrum Health turned regular hospital floors into intensive care (intensive care unit) floors during the COVID-19 crisis. Doctors, nurses and other staff have been deployed to these floors to provide assistance when needed. For me, this demonstrates the commitment, capacity and strength of the staff and the health system. All health care systems have had to find innovative ways to deliver care to their communities in this way. I never imagined having to work during a pandemic, but I cannot stress enough how lucky I feel to be working for Spectrum Health and with their leadership as we continue to provide quality care during this time.

Q: What is your vision for this program, as a member of the transplant team since 2016?

A: I intend to build on the momentum we have built over the past few years under the leadership of the current Surgical Director and the Surgical Leadership Team. We implemented several changes based on successful practices that I brought from my previous experiences. This includes introducing a pre-transplant checklist to ensure that all staff have completed the various tasks leading up to the complex procedure. Another change has been the way a heart is preserved and transplanted, leading to a now 92% survival rate in recipients after one year.

Q: What are the challenges of transplantation in the context of the coronavirus pandemic?

A: A major challenge has been to identify whether organ donors have been infected with COVID-19. Organ procurement organizations (OPOs) like United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) and Michigan Gift of Life have done an exceptional job in rapidly testing donors for the coronavirus. It is amazing that as a transplant community we have continued to provide safe transplants during a pandemic.

Q: Are there any promising new treatments or clinical trials that could extend the life of heart transplant patients?

A: Spectrum Health has been invited to participate in a new trial sponsored by Abbot, one of the leading manufacturers of HeartMate 3. The national trial will focus on a minimally invasive technique for LVAD implantation. Due to Spectrum’s extensive experience in minimally invasive techniques, we were the only center in Michigan selected to participate. It is essential that our health care system can continue to focus on research and clinical trials during these difficult times.

Spectrum’s heart and lung transplant program is supported by the philanthropy of Richard and Helen DeVos. The Heart Transplant Program was established in 2010, and the Lung Transplant Program followed in 2012.

To date, the program has performed 154 heart transplants, 212 lung transplants and two combined heart and lung transplants.

Dr Leacche will partner with Dr Ryan Grayburn, Heart Transplant Program Medical Director, to lead the Heart Transplant Program and Dr Sangjin Lee, VAD Program Medical Director, to lead the VAD program. She will also partner with Dr Mike Dickinson, as co-director of the UNOS program for heart transplantation and medical director of heart failure programs. Lung Transplant Surgical Director Dr. Ed Murphy and Lung Transplant Medical Director Dr. Reda Girgis will continue to lead the Lung Transplant Program.

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