A Canadian woman was kept alive without her lungs for six days as she awaited her organ donor. Melissa Benoit lost her lungs due to complications from cystic fibrosis, a condition that had them filled with blood, mucus, and pus.

She had lived with the disease, but after contracting the H1N1 virus, her lungs were deemed inoperable in the long term. The infection had spread throughout her body, shutting down her organs as she got worse.

Melissa Benoit survived for six days without her lungs. Image credit: City News
Melissa Benoit survived for six days without her lungs. Image credit: City News

Doctors needed to perform a double transplant of her lungs, but Benoit was weak and would not make it through surgery. The solution was to operate and connect the 33-year-old mother to an artificial breathing machine until a suitable donor was found.

The procedure lasted nine hours, and doctors inserted an artificial lung in her chest connected to an external pump that nurtured her blood with oxygen.

A week without lungs

When Melissa Benoit was driven to the hospital, her muscles were atrophied, which made he unable to walk. Now, months after the procedure, Benoit can play with her 2-year-old daughter and walk without wheezing or struggling to breathe.

So far, Benoit has not experienced signs of rejection from her body, seeing that she received a transplant of a major set of organs such as the lungs.

The procedure was registered in the Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery, this being the first time a patient lives for so long by being connected to a respiratory support machine.

The artificial lung is a device known as Novalung, which oxygenated her blood and removed carbon dioxide from her body.

“Once we took the lungs out and she got connected, literally within 20 minutes, we were able to remove all the blood-pressure-supporting drugs. That told us that the concept is right. She’s not going to die tonight, but we’re not home free. Now can we keep this state until we get lungs?” stated Dr. Shaf Keshavjee according to The Washington Post.

As she recovered from surgery, Benoit had to walk on treadmills and lift weights to regain her strength. She was forced to use a walker and then a cane, but now she can walk without assistance. Benoit and her daughter even had the opportunity of playing Easter Egg hunt in the hospital.

Lung transplant surgery is deemed as an effective approach for treating diseases that have destroyed the lungs in such a way that they are unusable. A lung transplant can elongate a patient’s life and allow for easier breathing. Despite its benefits, the surgery has significant risks, and complications are more than common.

The surgery is usually brought to the table whenever the patient is in danger of dying unless there is any other option. The most common diseases that can be treated with a lung transplant are chronic bronchitis, emphysema, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and pulmonary arterial hypertension, and lastly, cystic fibrosis, which was the condition that led Melissa Benoit to undergo the dangerous procedure that allowed her to enjoy her daughter’s toddler years.

Source: The Washington Post