Mom's Life Saved By Living Without Lungs For Six Days

Thoracic surgeons at Toronto General Hospital (TGH) in a very challenging procedure, removed severely damaged lungs from a dying mom. This procedure kept her alive without lungs for six days. The surgery was done so she can recover enough to receive a lung transplant. The operation is believed to be the first in the world and was made possible by advanced life support technology, a dedicated team of diverse surgical, respiratory, intensive care and perfusion team.

According to Dr. Shaf Keshavjee, surgeon-in-chief of the Sprott Department of Surgery at University Health Network, one of the three thoracic surgeons who operated on Melissa to remove both of her lungs, they had to operate as the patient was going to die that night. Melissa Benoit was brought to TGH’s Medical Surgical Intensive Care Unit on April 2016. She was sedated and on a ventilator because of her labored breathing. Melissa had suffered from cystic fibrosis for the last three years.

Melissa had been on prescribed antibiotics to fight off chest infections which have become more frequent. Melissa had a bout of influenza just before admission. She was coughing so hard that she fractured her ribs. Her lungs were inflamed and was beginning to fill with pus, blood and mucous which decreased the amount of air entering her lungs.

Dr. Niall Ferguson, Head of Critical Care Medicine at the University Health Network stated that the influenza infection had tipped Melissa into respiratory failure. Her only chance at surviving and recovery was a lung transplant. Conventional ventilator was not enough as Melissa’s oxygen levels were very low. Physicians placed her on Extra-Corporeal Lung Support (ECLS) a temporary life support medical device that supports the work of the heart and lungs in order to buy time until donor lungs becomes available. Melissa’s condition continued to worsen despite this according to a report by ScienceDaily.

After conferring with Melissa’s family, a radical decision was made. It was agreed that both of Melissa’s lungs would be taken out in order to save her life. According to Dr. Keshavjee, this procedure has never been done before. TGH is where the world’s first lung transplant and the world’s first double lung transplant was performed in 1983. Toronto General Hospital has a very large multidisciplinary team of talented people and the hospital has a big investment in transplantation.

A team of 13 entered the operating room led by Dr. Keshavjee. It took nine hours to remove Melissa’s lungs. According to Keshavjee, Melissa’s lungs became as hard as footballs because of the pus and mucus. After removing the lungs, the surgical team put a Novalung ino the right side of her heart to work on the ECLS life support machine which replaced the respiratory function of the lungs. Novalung is a device that oxygenates the blood and is used in patients with failing lungs before they are removed.

After the removal of the lungs, Melissa showed signs of improvement and other organs showed signs of repair. She no longer needed blood pressure medications. The infection got better and she was put back on the lung transplant waiting list. After six days, Melissa received a healthy pair of donor lungs. According to Dr. Keshavjee, Melissa has very good prognosis as her new lungs are working well and she has gone through rehabilitation and is now walking around. Her life is more normal now as reported by CNN.

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