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How Louisiana's Anti-LGBTQ+ Laws Forced This Gay Heart Transplant Cardiologist to Move

How Louisiana's Anti-LGBTQ+ Laws Forced This Gay Heart Transplant Cardiologist to Move

Dr. Jake Kleinmahon (right) with his husband, Tom, and two children

The director of the pediatric heart transplant and heart failure program at the state’s only heart transplant center for kids is packing up his husband and two kids and leaving.

A highly specialized New Orleans doctor who has dedicated himself to saving children’s lives says the Louisiana legislature’s anti-LGBTQ+ bills are pushing him and his family away from the state. Dr. Jake Kleinmahon says he’s accepted a new offer in New York, where he and his husband will move to raise their two children.

Saturday evening, Kleinmahon, the director of pediatric heart transplant and heart failure at Ochsner Hospital for Children, wrote a Facebook update for his friends and community. The renowned physician announced that he would be leaving Louisiana with his family because of what he says is a hostile environment Republicans created for LGBTQ+ people in the state.

“When I came back to Louisiana almost exactly 5 years ago, I came with the goal of building one of the highest quality pediatric heart transplant, heart failure, and ventricular assist programs in the country,” the physician wrote.

“I felt that kids in Louisiana should be able to get the same quality healthcare as any other child in the United States. We have been quite successful, and I’m so proud of what we’ve built. My plan had been to stay at my current institution until I retired. However, over the last year, [my husband] Tom and I have watched state legislatures across the South pass anti-LGBTQ+ legislation.”

He explained that when Louisiana’s legislature overrode one of three governor’s vetoes of bills targeting the LGBTQ+ community, they sent a "very clear" message to families like his.

A few weeks ago, the Republican-led state legislature overrode Democratic Gov. John Bel Edwards’s veto of a bill banning gender-affirming care for trans youth.

“Tom and I have discussed at length the benefits of continuing to live in the South, as well as the toll that it takes on our family. Because of this, we are leaving Louisiana. Our children come first. We cannot continue to raise them in this environment,” Kleinmahon wrote.

As he is director of the pediatric heart transplant program at Ochsener Hospital for Children — the only pediatric heart transplant center in Louisiana — his departure leaves the state with only two other pediatric heart transplant cardiologists who can provide such care.

Kleinmahon will now serve as director of pediatric heart transplant, heart failure, and ventricular assist devices at Cohen Children’s Medical Center on Long Island.

“This is a wonderful new opportunity, but it is incredibly sad to leave our home, our friends, colleagues, and patients and their families,” he wrote in a Facebook post announcing the move.

During a conversation with The Advocate, Kleinmahon said it pained him to leave a program he built up and to leave a community he’d come to treasure.

“First and foremost, we love New Orleans,” he said. “We love living here. We have incredible friends and coworkers. But we’ve been made to feel that although we’ve poured our hearts into the city and the state — we’ve done everything we possibly could — the legislature in the state just doesn’t care about us.”

He added, “It’s troubling because I feel like if something [bad] happened to us, very few people in our state government would stand up for us.”

Kleinmahon said that in addition to the state losing out on the expertise of a pediatric transplant cardiologist, his husband’s knowledge as a senior chemical engineer will be lost.

He said that he and his husband, Tom, did not plan to leave or even wish to. “But having children is something that changes you, and our children come first,” Kleinmahon clarified. “Explaining to them that we are going to stay in a state that does not even think that our family should be able to exist just goes completely against what we teach our children and our morals.”

Also, with Kleinmahon’s departure, Louisiana will have only one doctor specializing in pediatric pulmonary hypertension.

As a heart transplant doctor for kids, Kleinmahon has dedicated his life to children’s care and well-being. He said the right-wing vilification of gender-affirming medical care for kids is outrageous and illogical.

“I take care of kids with heart transplants,” he said. “The [right wing argues] that these [gender-affirming care] treatments are permanent and irreversible; that procedures are done on children who aren’t old enough to understand what’s going on? So is a heart transplant.”

He asked, “So does that mean that we shouldn’t be giving children heart transplants? That is a completely life-altering procedure.”

Kleinmahon explained, “We do it because it’s backed by science, and it gives these children the potential to live a full life.”

He told The Advocate gender-affirming care is no different, explaining that such care has strict guidelines regarding the type of counseling and which physicians patients have to see to receive treatment.

“Doctors are not just going out there and just throwing random hormones at people or performing gender-affirming surgeries. There are intensive psychological evaluations, and these kids are followed for years before entertaining the ideas of these procedures,” Kleinmahon said. “So, at some point, you have to trust the medical system and the doctors who have studied this, backed by every major medical organization that I can think of, to do the right thing.”

Kleinmahon said that while “New Orleans isn’t Louisiana, unfortunately, it’s in Louisiana,” and that necessitates doing what’s best for his family and essentially becoming political refugees in a state that isn’t hostile to the LGBTQ+ community.

“I feel like we are being forced out of a place that we love, but what’s more important are the patients that I take care of,” he said with emotion in his voice. “The patients I have long-standing relationships with, when I tell them that I’m moving, I have never had so many parents cry. And that is the hardest part of all of this.”

In addition, he acknowledged he has a certain level of privilege that allows him to relocate, even if involuntarily.

“Our family will be able to thrive in New York,” he said. “We’re excited about that.”

Other talented doctors remain in Louisiana, and Kleinmahon doesn’t want to give the impression that nobody will remain to help kids in the state. “But with what I do with the combination of pediatric heart transplant, pediatric heart failure, and pediatric pulmonary hypertension, there will only be two doctors left in an active pediatric heart transplant program in the entire state of Louisiana. They’re fantastic, but the state is losing out.”

He continued, “I am one of two pediatric pulmonary hypertension providers in Louisiana. This has been a very sad and emotional time for us as a family, but honestly, by far, the hardest part of all of this is telling my patients that I’m leaving.”

Kleinmahon and his family plan to move by the end of the month.

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