Put in perspective, five is the average number of lung transplants performed each day throughout the entire country. The patients, all doing well, are a teacher, a judge, an executive director, a grandmother and an extraordinary young woman who beat very long odds to undergo a second lung transplant in three years.
Between the early hours of May 8 and May 9, Loyola surgeons performed one double-lung and four single-lung transplants. It’s highly unusual for so many lungs to become available in so short a period of time. And Loyola is among only a handful of centers worldwide capable of doing so many transplants so quickly.
“We have a very deep bench,” said Dr. Daniel Dilling, Loyola’s medical director of Lung Transplantation and a specialist in Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine. “Loyola is one of only a handful of centers worldwide that have enough surgeons, resources and experience to achieve such a milestone."
Loyola has performed 780 lung transplants, by far the most of any center in Illinois. Last year, Loyola successfully performed three lung transplants in 24 hours.
Dr. Jeffrey Schwartz, Loyola’s surgical director of lung transplantation, said lung transplantation is a complex procedure, with surgeries lasting up to eight hours.
After spending all day May 8 performing one lung transplant, Schwartz stayed up all night performing a second. “The adrenaline kicks in and keeps you going,” he said. “While you are operating, you are oblivious to fatigue."
Dr. Mamdouh Bakhos, chair of Loyola's Department of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery, said, "We have a strong team that is able to handle virtually any situation that arises. We work as a team and everything we do is focused on doing what is best for the patient."
These are the five Loyola patients who received lung transplants in little more than 24 hours:
Julie D’Agostino, 21, of Elmhurst, Ill. D’Agostino was born with cystic fibrosis, a life-threatening disease that causes a buildup of thick mucus in the lungs. In 2011, she was within a few hours or days of dying when she received her first lung transplant at Loyola. She was the subject of a documentary, “Miracle on South Street: The Julie D Story,” which aired on public television and Comcast On Demand and now is available on Hulu.
Following her first transplant, D’Agostino was healthy for a year. But then her new lungs began failing as she began to experience chronic rejection. She faced long odds in finding a new lung that would not also be rejected. Even with immune-suppressing drugs, the antibodies in D’Agostino’s immune system would reject about 99 percent of any donor lungs. But in a stroke of great luck, a lung suitable for D’Agostino became available.
“I now have been given two chances at life,” she said. “I want to make a difference.”
D’Agostino’s mother, Mary, said Julie looks great after surviving so many hurdles. “She teaches me something new every day about bravery, faith and patience,” Mary D’Agostino said. “She never complains."
Performing a second lung transplant is an especially difficult operation, due to the buildup of scar tissue from the first transplant and other factors. “It’s a formidable challenge,” said Schwartz, who performed the second transplant.
Dr. R. Anthony Perez-Tamayo procured the lung from D’Agostino’s donor.
Robert Senander, 68, of Winfield, Ill. Senander was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis in 2009 and used supplemental oxygen for five years. He’s eager to return to work as a Social Security administrative law judge.
Dr. Michael Eng performed Senander’s right-lung transplant and Perez-Tamayo procured the lung.
Karen Emerich, 56, New Carlisle, Ind. Emerich, a seventh-grade special education teacher, received a double-lung transplant. Four years ago, she was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, a condition that causes scarring in the lungs and results in increasing shortness of breath. For two years, Emerich required supplemental oxygen.
Emerich loves being a teacher. Throughout her illness, she said, “Teaching kept me going every day.” She’s looking forward to returning to her classroom – without an oxygen tank.
Schwartz performed her transplant and Perez-Tamayo procured the lungs.
Linda Kern, a 65-year-old grandmother who lives in Princeton, Ill. Kern was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis in January 2011, and for three years required supplemental oxygen around the clock. She’s looking forward to simple pleasures such as taking her three puppies (Odie, Turtle and Racer) for a walk.
Eng performed Kern’s right-lung transplant and Perez-Tamayo procured the lung.
Roderick Beck, 67, of Springfield, Ill. Beck, executive director of the Township Officials of Illinois Risk Management Association, is eager to return to work. He suffered from pulmonary fibrosis. He also can’t wait to resume simple activities such as mowing the lawn and taking long walks. And now when his grandchildren play sports and perform in the choir and marching band, he will be able to attend in person, rather than just watching the videos.
Dr. Marcelo DaSilva performed the left-lung transplant and Perez-Tamayo procured the lung.