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Upper Age Limit for Lung Transplant is Increasing

by Shirley Johanna on April 1, 2016 at 6:05 PM
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Upper Age Limit for Lung Transplant is Increasing

A 74-year-old man became the oldest patient in Illinois to receive a lung transplant. He no longer suffers from debilitating shortness of breath.

Loyola University Medical Center patient Brian Andersen is returning to his extraordinarily active life as a real estate developer, pilot, downhill skier, scuba diver and biker (he owns 10 motorcycles).


"Every morning I open my eyes and take a deep breath, and as my lungs fill with air, I think it's another great day," said Mr. Andersen, now 75, of Downers Grove, Illinois.

As Mr. Andersen's case illustrates, the upper age limit for lung transplantation has been increasing steadily. The maximum age, originally 60, increased to 65 in the 1990s and has gone up further since then, said Daniel Dilling, MD, Mr. Andersen's pulmonologist and Loyola''s medical director of lung transplantation.

During the first half of 2015, 27.5 percent of lung transplant patients in North America were older than 65, according to the most recent data from the International Society for Heart and Lung Transplantation.

Age, by itself, is no longer considered an absolute contraindication to lung transplantation, according to the latest guidelines from the transplantation society. Although patients older than 75 are unlikely to be candidates for lung transplantation, "there cannot be endorsement of an upper age limit," the guidelines said.

Dr. Dilling said that when he evaluates a patient for a transplant, he considers the patient's age, along with the patient's overall health. Dr. Dilling said that Mr. Andersen's physiological age was much younger than his chronological age. Apart from his lung disease, he was in excellent health.

"Mr. Andersen had no other major medical concerns," Dr. Dilling said. "He was very strong and robust, and looked a lot younger than 74."

Mr. Andersen said he had always enjoyed excellent health, and apart from an occasional cold, almost never got sick. But in 2012, Mr. Andersen was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, a progressive lung disease that causes lung tissue to become thick, stiff and scarred. As the disease progresses, it becomes increasingly difficult to breathe.

By the spring of 2015, Mr. Andersen had to go on supplemental oxygen 24 hours a day. Even using high doses of oxygen, he couldn't walk up more than a couple steps without stopping to catch his breath. "I was winded all the time," he said.

Mr. Andersen had only weeks to live when, a few weeks before his 75th birthday, he received a life-saving, right lung transplant on Sept. 15, 2015. The operation was performed by Mamdouh Bakhos, MD. Dr. Bakhos is chair of Loyola's Department of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery and one of the nation's top lung transplant surgeons.

Mr. Andersen praised Dr. Bakhos, Dr. Dilling and Loyola's entire lung transplant team. "The doctors and staff at Loyola have given me back my life," he said. "The care I received and the encouragement I was given were the highest level. I can''t say enough about them."

Loyola has performed more than 800 lung transplants, by far the most of any center in Illinois. Last year, Loyola performed more lung transplants than the three other Illinois lung transplant programs combined. In May, 2014, Loyola became the only center in Illinois to perform five successful lung transplants in just over 24 hours.


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