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CLEVELAND – More than one thousand people are waiting for a lung transplant in the United States.
Dan Lynch, 71 of Erie, Pennsylvania, was one of them.
Four years after being diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis – a disease that scars the lungs, and robs people of their ability to breathe and do simple activities – Lynch was out of treatment options and placed on the transplant waiting list at Cleveland Clinic.
About three months later, a lung become available. However, it didn’t quite meet transplant standards.
It’s actually typical for 80 percent of donated lungs to go unused –sometimes because the lungs do not meet standards, or in other cases, the timing is wrong.
But in Lynch’s case, doctors were able to turn to a novel device – the ex-vivo lung perfusion machine – in an effort to save his life.
“The ex-vivo lung machine is a way we have of taking lungs that are either questionable from a function standpoint for transplant, or lungs that we simply need a little bit better assessment outside of the body to determine whether they’re transplantable,” said Kenneth McCurry, M.D., a cardiothoracic surgeon and Surgical Director of Cleveland Clinic’s Lung and Heart-Lung Transplant Program.
Donor lungs are placed under a plastic dome and solutions are infused through them as they ‘breathe,’ while doctors assess lung function over a period of a few hours.
“If the lungs work well on the machine and everything else looks okay, then we think that they’re appropriate for transplantation,” said Dr. McCurry.
Lynch’s new lung was ultimately able to work well on the machine, and he was able to receive it.
Today, he is breathing easy and plans to put his new lung to good use.
“I’m here to use my new lung to my best advantage and that’s those six grandchildren, and the seventh, when we get to meet him,” Lynch said.
Without the ex-vivo lung perfusion machine, the organ would likely have been discarded.
“A few years ago this would not have happened,” said Dr. McCurry. “He would not have gotten a transplant but now with this technology we can do it.”