How long can you live without your heart? How long without your liver? Your spleen? Your lungs? A woman in Canada learned the answer to that last one. Melissa needed transplants for both her lungs, but none were available. So her doctors made a critical choice: They removed her lungs and put in an artificial lung until a suitable donor could be found.
People with cystic fibrosis have a dysfunction of the cells that produce mucus, so instead of acting as a lubricant, the mucus is thick and viscous. This causes the tubes within the body, especially to the lungs, to become clogged up.
Most people are able to live relatively normal lives with the use of treatments and careful life choices. In fact, Melissa was managing her disease quite well until she contracted the swine flu (H1N1) virus. Her bout with the swine flu spread to other organs and shut them down. The virus also left her lungs too damaged to survive an operation.
At that point, Melissa and her doctors discussed her options. She needed a double lung transplant, but her body was too weak to survive the surgery. They made the difficult choice of removing her lungs and implanting an apparatus to help oxygenate her blood and remove carbon dioxide.
Six. Days. Later.
She finally received the lungs that she desperately needed. Melissa’s nearly week-long time without lungs set a new record. Her case has been noted in the Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery.
Months after her surgery, Melissa is back at home and back to playing with her two-year-old daughter. She had to endure physical therapy to build back the muscle mass she lost when her body was struggling with the swine flu. She required the use of a walker before graduating up to a cane. Today, she can walk without it.
More importantly, Melissa is showing no signs of organ rejection.
With any transplant, rejection is a real concern—even more so with major organs like the lungs. Melissa’s excellent progress leaves her doctors cautiously optimistic. Let’s hope that Melissa’s groundbreaking journey inspires others!
Read more about Melissa’s incredible six days without lungs by clicking here.