Michigan hospital authorities are heaving a sigh of relief. The much-awaited double lung transplant seems to have been successful.
The 50-year-old man, as yet unnamed, is stable at the moment, but it would be several weeks before doctors can say confidently he has come through safely.
It should have a most traumatic double lung transplant, for the surgeons that is. A team at University of Michigan Health was all keyed up Monday last to perform a double lung transplant on a man, critically ill with emphysema.
Emphysema is a type of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) involving damage to the air sacs (alveoli) in the lungs. As a result, one's body does not get the oxygen it needs. Emphysema makes it difficult to breathe. One can also have a chronic cough and have trouble breathing during exercise.The most common cause is cigarette smoking.
The Michigan patient was also a long time smoker. He had been on the waiting list for a double lung transplant since November.
On Monday when the man's chest had been cut open and his lungs exposed to the air in the operating room, came the report that the plane carrying precious organs meant for the man had crashed shortly after it took off.
Everything had to be closed up and an agonizing wait for news of availability of another set of organs began.
Fortunately by late Tuesday hospital authorities learnt another set was indeed coming. The operation was finally performed Thursday. The surgery lasted over seven hours.
"If he had not received a transplant in a timely fashion he would have died," said Dr. Andrew C. Chang, one of two doctors who led the surgical team.
The patient has not been told of the crash. "I'll tell him more when he can handle it," Chang said.
Chang said the man's condition is "significantly improved."
The patient's family, in a statement released by the health system, said it was devastated and heartbroken for the families of the six team members who died in the crash.
A chartered plane transported the new organs from an undisclosed donor hospital to Willow Run Airport near Ypsilanti, where a transplant donation specialist met the plane and carried the organs to the hospital on a Survival Flight helicopter.
"It is magnificent that this team has continued the work of our team that we lost," Dr. Robert Kelch, the health system's chief executive, said in an e-mail Friday to the health system's employees.
He noted that members of the transplant team continued to work as they dealt with the loss of their colleagues.
"This wonderful news doesn't in any way relieve the acute pain we are feeling at the loss of our dedicated Survival Flight crew," he said.
"We are relieved that we were able to do this transplant and give this man another chance for life," Dr. Jeffrey Punch, director of the Division of Transplantation at University of Michigan, said in a statement. "Our friends that died in the crash would have wanted us to go on with our work."
The cause of the crash was still unknown, but divers searching the lake off Milwaukee identified a debris field Friday on the lake bottom containing much of the wreckage, said Keith Holloway, spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board.
Heavy equipment will be needed to raise it, Holloway said. Recovery won't take place until next week, he told the Detroit Free Press.