After months of poor patient outcomes and one recent death, the Medical University Hospital announced Thursday that it has voluntarily suspended its adult heart transplant program.

"We understand that this is a very difficult situation for our patients, and our decision to voluntarily inactivate the adult heart transplant program was made with the understanding that we are still able to provide a number of end-stage heart failure treatments," said MUSC spokeswoman Heather Woolwine, in a prepared statement.

The MUSC pediatric heart transplant program is not affected by the announcement.

Surgeons at the hospital have performed nearly 500 heart transplants since the program's inception in the mid-1980s. More than 90 percent of patients who received a new heart at MUSC survived at least one year after the procedure.

But recent results have been less successful, Woolwine said.

"MUSC has been concerned about new hearts being weak after transplant," she said. "After an internal review at the beginning of the year could not uncover a root cause of the issue, we invited a team of cardiologists and transplant surgeons from other centers to review our program. Again, no specific cause was found and we were encouraged to continue with heart transplants."

After this review uncovered no specific reason for the poor results, MUSC was encouraged to continue its transplant program.

"MUSC performed two transplants and again both hearts were weak. One patient died," Woolwine said. "This is the reason we have temporarily and voluntarily stopped doing adult heart transplants, and we will not perform any adult heart transplants until we have finished a top to bottom investigation with the help of UNOS (United Network for Organ Sharing)."

According its website, MUSC is the only hospital in South Carolina with adult and pediatric cardiac transplant programs.

Woolwine said adults on the waiting list for a heart transplant at MUSC have been notified of the program's suspension. The hospital will attempt to connect these patients with other hospitals that perform the procedure. They will earn credit for time served on MUSC's transplant waiting list, she said. Woolwine did not immediately know how many patients are waiting for a heart transplant at MUSC.

Nearly 4,000 candidates across the country are waiting for a heart donation, according to the federal Organ Procurement and Transplantation Network.

Reach Lauren Sausser at 937-5598.