Oregon Health & Science University says three cardiologist have left, leaving 20 patients in limbo.

KOIN 6 NEWS PHOTO - A logo for Oregon Health & Science University. Oregon Health & Science University has suspended its heart transplant program — the only of its kind in this state — effective immediately.

OHSU says all 20 of its current transplant patients waiting for an operation have switched to a new medical center or have decided to forgo treatment.

More than 320 post-transplant patients are being evaluated to address their ongoing care needs, according to a news release. The hospital originally hoped to pause operations for two weeks, but now says it has no firm timeline for reactivating the transplant program.

"OHSU profoundly regrets the distress our patients are experiencing as a result of this action," the university said in a statement. "We are deploying every resource at our disposal to ensure they have immediate and ongoing care."

Three of the four cardiologists with the department will leave OHSU by Sept. 30. The fourth former cardiologist, Dr. Rupa Bala, is suing the university for alleged sex discrimination.

OHSU says its other transplant programs — for livers, pancreas, kidneys and bone marrow infusions — continue to function as usual. It says it will not fire support staff who assisted in heart transplants.

The OHSU Heart Transplant Program was established in 1985. The nearest similar programs are in Seattle and San Francisco.

"OHSU has been diligently working to rebuild our Heart Transplant Program," according to the press release. "For confidentiality reasons, OHSU cannot disclose whether we have candidates in any stage of recruitment, and we cannot communicate about any imminent appointments until contracts are signed."

Reports by KOIN 6 NEWS, a media partner of the Portland Tribune, indicate that "serious internal turmoil" has roiled the department.

Dianna Howell, who's on the waitlist, told the TV station she's "scared to death."

"I don't know if I'm going to live or die. This is a life-or-death decision for me," she said.

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