Like others throughout the nation, LDS Hospital's successful heart transplant program could be in danger as Americans, faced with skyrocketing medical costs, begin making ethical decisions as to who should live and who should die.

This was the warning Tuesday night of a Michigan businessman whose life was saved a year ago through a heart transplant at the Salt Lake hospital.Richard H. Headlee, president and chief executive officer of Alexander Hamilton Life Insurance Co. of America, underwent transplant surgery Oct. 8 at LDS Hospital after experiencing what he thought was severe asthma while playing golf in Utah. Following a stressful five-week wait, a suitable heart was found. The Republican, who lost the gubernatorial race to Democrat James J. Blanchard in 1982, said the reason he's again his optimistic self is that he's alive - one year after experiencing congestive heart failure.

Headlee, whose renewed vow is to irritate a liberal every day he's alive, said a "tide of devastation and concern" swept over him when physicians issued the startling news: At age 56, he needed a heart transplant.

"I saw pictures of Barney Clark and equipment and 90 days and you're gone," he said. "But I believe the Lord preserved me for a reason."

Headlee, who's back actively running his Michigan-based company, is doing everything possible to preserve endangered transplant programs, challenged by limited funds and donors.

"We in society can't have deserving people unable to get a transplant because of funds," he told the movers and shakers of LDS Hospital.

Headlee's message was given at the AMICUS Annual Banquet at Fort Douglas Country Club. AMICUS' 400 volunteer members raise money for the hospital through the Deseret Foundation. A portion of the more than $40,000 raised last year in dues and $3 million in endowments, is now designated to support the hospital's organ transplant program.

It's a program, according to Headlee, operated at the "premier institution in the world" - an institution full of "competence, warmth, friendliness, compassion, concern."

Paying tribute to the thoracic surgeon who saved his life, Headlee said there are certain things Dr. Kent W. Jones can - and can't do. He can take out a heart and put in a new one.

What he can't do is prevent the kind of health care rationing that's occurring in Oregon. There, $1.5 million has been designated for the treatment of AIDS; none for transplant programs.

Headlee, whose insurance plan included a rider that would pay up to $1 million for his heart transplant, admitted he's unique. Because many transplants are still considered "experimental," they are not covered by the majority of third-party payers.

The situation, he predicted, will worsen in the future as society makes life and death decisions.

"You've done a lot. All I ask is that you do more," Headlee challenged AMICUS members. "You never know when someone will catch a dream from you."

In addition to Headlee and Jones, club members paid tribute Tuesday night to two other individuals for their humanitarian service to LDS Hospital. Elder Hugh W. Pinnock, a member of the Presidency of the First Quorum of Seventy of The Church of Jesus Christ of Latter-day Saints, and Richard A. "Skip" Christensen, were recipients of the 1988 Gold Caduceus Award for giving a start to the AMICUS organization.

Also recognized were AMICUS lifetime and five-year members and new board members, including R. Bert Carter, W. Boyd Christensen, Dr. Richard M. Hebertson, Therese Milad, and John N. Stone.