80 Year Old With Pulmonary Fibrosis Proves Some Seniors are Transplant-Viable

According to a publication from the Oklahoma Nursing Times, Kenneth Wyatt celebrated his 80th birthday this past June 4th. The happy occasion also marked almost five months exactly since Wyatt received a lung transplant at the INTEGRIS Nazih Zuhdi Transplant Institute in Oklahoma City.

About two years ago, Wyatt found himself struggling with his breathing. “I felt claustrophobic, like I constantly needed more oxygen,” he remembers.

Concerned, Wyatt met with a physician who diagnosed him with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. Other doctors Wyatt saw told him he was too old to receive a lung transplant, and that the pulmonary fibrosis would be fatal. Determined to prove them wrong, Wyatt sought other options.

About Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis

Idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF) is a chronic condition characterized by the progressive scarring of lung tissue. The organs’ ability to transport oxygen throughout the bloodstream is increasingly hampered as scar tissue builds up.

Researchers have been unable to pinpoint a specific cause of the condition. The most commonly accepted theory at this point is that the condition is caused by a combination of genetic and environmental factors — such as general fitness or history of smoking.

Complications stemming from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis can be just as serious. Some with the fibrotic condition go on to develop lung cancer, pneumonia, or pulmonary embolism — all of which can be fatal in high-risk individuals.

After being diagnosed, most with IPF live another three to five years. However, survivability varies on a case-by-case basis, and life expectancy for those with the condition varies.

“Too Old for Transplant”

Many patients are hesitant to undergo major operations, especially as they age. Physicians themselves are often less willing to perform highly invasive operations on older patients because the operation itself starts to pose health risks. Surgery and recovery are lengthy, physically demanding processes. The risk-benefit of something like a lung transplant quickly turns unfavorable in older populations.

However, the prevailing belief that all seniors are unsuitable transplant candidates is wildly unfounded. Kenneth Wyatt’s story is testament to that.

After being told his idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis would be fatal, Wyatt asked about a lung transplant. Specialists told him he was too old — his body would likely not be able to bear the stress of such an operation. Wyatt disagreed.

Eventually, Wyatt met with a physician who referred him to the INTEGRIS Nazih Zuhdi Transplant Institute. Dr. Alan Betensley, co-director of lung transplantation and pulmonary disease management at the Transplant Institute, personally met with Wyatt.

The Institute ran tests and found that despite Wyatt’s pulmonary fibrosis, he was a perfectly viable transplant candidate “…regardless of his age.”

Wyatt was placed on a waiting list in November 2018, and less than two months later received “the call.” He’s since made a strong recovery, and is thoroughly enjoying his new lungs. Wyatt’s oxygen levels are back up to 98%, and he’s working on physical therapy.

“I have no doubt he will make a full recovery,” Dr. Betensley said of Wyatt. “He is proof positive that age is relative.”

Do you think the medical industry is too quick to dismiss the health concerns of senior citizens? Why is it important to treat every patient as unique? Share your thoughts with Patient Worthy!

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