FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) - Lutheran Hospital is halting its heart transplant program come April. The current heart failure cardiologist is moving out of state. The move has families of transplant recipients concerned for others who need care.
"They were always there. And I'm sad because if we didn't have Lutheran transplant, I don't know what we would have done," explained Carla Payne.
Payne's brother, Eric McKinney, is one of more than 300 people who have benefitted from Lutheran's heart transplant program.
He received a heart in 2007, giving him seven years more of life.
According to Payne, if it weren't for Lutheran fighting for a transplant and caring for Eric, he would have passed much sooner. Now she worries for others who may not have the resources to go somewhere else to receive care.
"I just hope that they work it out. I hope that someone wants to come here and stay here and to help us because, you know, we are a growing city, but people need them," Payne said.
Dr. Mike Schatzlein performed the first heart transplant at Lutheran Hospital in 1985. With a program halt looming, he is focusing on the positive.
He is glad the services he helped create have lasted 34 years in a community the size of Fort Wayne, without a medical school.
"It's one of the issues with one of the smaller programs that we always faced," Schatzlein added. "You have to maintain a group of physicians and it was kind of unusual to pull that kind of a group together in Fort Wayne and it's been, I'm sure, a challenge to keep it together over the 30 years."
Schatlzein said they started the program at Lutheran for the conveninece of the patients. Knowing from experience how difficult it is to keep qualified people on staff, Schatlzein is not sure if Lutheran will be able to keep the program running.
"I hope they are able to continue it. I wouldn't be surprised if they're not. It's not a simple thing."