Dr. David Kaminskas
The Catholic Doctor Is In
June 18, 2019 // Perspective

Back in the days of giants

Dr. David Kaminskas
The Catholic Doctor Is In

I would like to tell you about a very special physician who roamed the halls of St. Joseph, Lutheran and Parkview hospitals years ago. His name is Dr. Michael Mastrangelo.

He came to town in 1959 after finishing his training at one of the great teaching hospitals, Georgetown University. He was a trained thoracic and vascular surgeon and Fort Wayne desperately needed this type of expertise to join the medical community. He operated on high-risk patients who had aortic aneurysms, severe peripheral vascular disease, lung cancer and acute gunshot wounds, to name just a few of his frequent surgeries. He was instrumental in setting up the first intensive care units in the Fort Wayne hospitals and was involved in the purchase of the first ventilator in Fort Wayne.

Back in the day, physicians frequently went out of their comfort zone or specialty to do whatever was required to save patients with acute, life-threatening illnesses. In today’s world, physicians usually stick to their specialty.

He shared a story with me of a young lady with a massive barbiturate overdose who was likely going to die without heroic measures. He knew that they needed to quickly remove this toxic amount of barbiturate from the body to have any chance of saving the woman. Theoretically, the best way to do this was through dialysis. The big problem was that no one had ever dialyzed a patient in Fort Wayne before.

A machine was available and there were plans being made to initiate a dialysis program, but it was not yet a go. This lady’s life was at stake and she could not wait, so Dr. Mastrangelo and several other brave physicians did the very first dialysis on this lady as an emergency. It was a success, and she survived.

He was completely dedicated to being a physician and never said no to a request to help a patient in need. He worked 80 to 120 hours per week. In fact, he chose to live in central Fort Wayne so he would be able to arrive quickly at any of the three hospitals to help care for a critically ill patient.

I asked him what type of surgery he enjoyed the most, and his response was that he would go wherever the Lord guided him. Operating on people in need were his most rewarding cases. Dr. Mastrangelo was truly a leader among physicians.

I can remember that on one of my first days at Lutheran hospital years ago, he went out of his way to introduce himself and welcome me to the medical staff. Over the next few months, I learned how revered he was by physicians and nurses alike. If there was a complicated, high-risk surgery to be done, having Dr. Mastrangelo on the team was a major bonus. He somehow also found the time to volunteer for the Matthew 25 clinic for over two decades and is still on the board of trustees to this day.

Dr. Mastrangelo remains proud of his dedication to his family as well. On most days, he took a break to join his family for supper to see how his children were doing and to be with his wonderful wife, Grace. She was totally dedicated to allowing her husband to pursue such a demanding career. After supper he returned to the hospitals to finish his work, usually returning home to find everyone in bed for the night. This was indeed back in the days of the giants, when dedicated physicians never knew when they would get to go home or when their next good night’s sleep would be.

One of the stories he shared with me was about a young man who was rushed to the emergency room with a gunshot wound. Dr. Mastrangelo was able to patch him up in surgery and send him to the ICU in stable condition. Later that night he got a call from the nurse caring for this man. She said that he had been shot. Dr. Mastrangelo told her he knew all about the gunshot wound and had already completed surgery on him. The nurse replied, “No, you don’t understand. He was just shot again.” The perpetrator had actually come back into the hospital to finish this man off.

This type of incident is the reason that now, after someone comes to the hospital with a gunshot wound, there is a hospital lockdown: to protect the patient.

Dr. Mastrangelo shared with me a ritual that he performed before most surgeries. As he was doing the mandatory hand scrub and sterilization, he would have just the right amount of time to pray a decade of the rosary to prepare his mind and soul for the task at hand. Yes, Dr. Mike Mastrangelo is Catholic.

When I called him to ask permission to interview him and write an article about him, he was very reluctant to say yes. In fact, I remember his exact words: “I am not looking for any notoriety.” I beseeched him to allow me to share his story, and he finally succumbed. Join me in saying a few prayers of thanks for this 92-year-old physician, who has blessed Fort Wayne with his career.

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