A 57-year old Latino man suffering from pulmonary fibrosis said his life changed after undergoing the first surgery in the U.S. for an experimental "breathing lung" transplant.
Fernando Padilla, a former carpenter in Los Angeles, suffered from a disease that caused his lungs to turn to hardened scar tissue and kept him permanently tied to an oxygen tank, with his only hope being a double lung transplant.
Last November, the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center – a building which Padilla helped construct – gave him the good news he was hoping for.
A pair of double lungs was available and Padilla consented to being the first person in the U.S. to undergo the 'breathing lung' transplant using the TransMedics Organ Care System (OCS). The process uses a portable organ-preservation system, which keeps the donor lungs functioning and "breathing" in a near-physiologic state during transport to a recipient, as opposed to the normal method that has the lungs in an icebox in a non-functioning state.
"If they've got new technology to deliver the lungs still breathing, I think that would be better than trying to wake them back up again after being on ice," Padilla said, according to a press release from UCLA. "I'm just following technology."
Doctors believe that the new technology, while currently perilous, could ultimately assist transplant teams in better assessing donor lungs since the organs can be tested in the device and address the shortage of available organs by allowing donor lungs to be safely transported across longer distances. The donor pool right now is very small – with 1,650 people currently on the waiting list.
"Lungs are very sensitive and can easily be damaged during the donation process," said Dr. Abbas Ardehali, a professor of cardiothoracic surgery and director of the heart and lung transplantation program at UCLA. "The cold-storage method does not allow for reconditioning of the lungs, but this promising technology enables us to potentially improve the function of the donor lungs before they are placed in the recipient."
While the surgery was anything but easy, Padilla pulled through and is now breathing on his own and taking daily, two-mile walks.
"A couple times he had passed out. We almost lost him," his wife Lupe said, according to the New York Daily News. "He was suffocating."
UCLA lung and heart-lung transplant program is one of the nation’s leading medical centers for these types of surgeries.