Lutheran to ‘inactivate’ heart transplant program

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FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WPTA21) – Lutheran Hospital is ‘inactivating’ its heart transplant program following the decision by its specialist in that field to move out of state.

Hospital officials say a dedicated and properly certified cardiologist must oversee the program, but they are struggling to find a candidate. Without a dedicated doctor to oversee the program, it must “inactivate.”

That decision forces four patients awaiting transplants in Fort Wayne to receive their care from doctors in Indianapolis. Tangela Floyd, the Director of Public Relations for St. Vincent Medical Group confirms the patients will fall under their care beginning April 1.

“We will work collaboratively with the Lutheran Hospital team to ensure a smooth transition of care for each patient,” said Floyd.

The move means patients in Fort Wayne will need to travel considerably further for appointments. Indianapolis is a two-hour drive from Fort Wayne – which can potentially cause major inconveniences for ill patients. However, experts at the American Transplant Foundation say the distance likely won’t dangerously impact patients.

“If they live without four hours from the transplant center, they are in good shape,” explained the foundation’s Executive Director Anastasia Henry. “Once a donor heart is ready, they will need to get to the hospital quickly to have their transplant,” Henry added.

Donor hearts can become available at any time, but the transplant surgery must begin within hours. The “inactivation” of Lutheran’s convenient location in Fort Wayne exacerbates the issue for area patients. That is, if an organ becomes available to them.

According to the paper Recent advances in heart transplantation by Michelle M Kittleson, demand for donor hearts far outstrips supply. Currently, fewer than 50% of potential donors in the Unites States become organ donors. Newer techniques using less-than pristine hearts for “extended criteria donors” is one option to expand the pool. Even still, Kittleson writes that “the sickest patients have unacceptably high mortality.”

Do you know a patient affected by the “inactivation” of Lutheran’s heart transplant program? Let us know.

In a statement sent to ABC21, Public Relations Supervisor Geoff Thomas explained that plans to replace a departing specialist fell through.

The program will be discontinued on April 1.

The complete statement from Lutheran Health Network is as follows:

Lutheran Hospital is inactivating its heart transplant program. The Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services (CMS) and the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) require programs to have a dedicated cardiologist with specific training, experience and certification for heart transplant programs. Next month, the transplant cardiologist for Lutheran Hospital’s heart transplant program is moving out-of-state. Lutheran Hospital had recruited a replacement for her role but those plans fell through, leaving the program without an advanced heart failure cardiologist to care for and monitor patients. 

We understand this creates uncertainty for patients in our heart transplant program. Our team has spoken with the four patients on Lutheran Hospital’s transplant waiting list, and we are assisting them and our post-transplant patients in transferring their care to the St. Vincent heart transplant program in Indianapolis or another program of the patient’s choice. We are committed to supporting them throughout this process to ensure a smooth transition.

Geoff Thomas; Public Relations Supervisor – Lutheran Health Network

This article was updated with comment and perspective from St. Vincent Indianapolis, The American Transplant Foundation and an academic paper in the US National Library of Medicine.

Jonathan Shelley

Jonathan Shelley

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