High-tech box keeps lung transplants 'breathing'

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by KING 5 HealthLink

KING5.com

Posted on June 20, 2013 at 5:23 PM

Updated Thursday, Jun 20 at 6:21 PM

More than 1,600 people in the U.S. are on the waiting list for a lung transplant.

Each year, hundreds of those patients miss the opportunity to receive an organ transplant because the donor lungs are too far away or too damaged to be used. But a medical breakthrough is offering new hope.

Fernando Padilla has two passions: his car and his family. But for more than two years, he wasn't able to enjoy either because he had pulmonary fibrosis. His lungs were slowly being covered by scar tissue.

"I couldn't do nothing. I couldn't function," he said.

He went through three tanks of oxygen a day.

"I would sit on the couch, and if I dropped something, it was a struggle for me to pick it up," he said.

A lung transplant was his only hope. When a donor was found, Padilla learned he'd be the first man in the U.S. to get donor lungs that were still breathing.

"We can keep a human organ alive outside of a human body," said Dr. Abbas Ardehali, cardio-thoracic surgeon.

The lungs are put in a high-tech box where they are revived. A machine circulates blood and oxygen through it, allowing the lungs to be outside of the body for eight hours or possibly more. 

"As far as the organ is concerned, it still feels like it is in a human body because it is still breathing," said Dr. Ardehali.
 
Today, Padilla is back in the driver's seat.

Before the breathing box, the traditional method to keep lungs viable for transplanting was to place them  on ice in a cooler, but that way the lungs only last four to six hours.

 

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