UW Medicine, the only institution in the Pacific Northwest that offers lung transplants, is the 11th in the United States to hit this milestone.
“This is even more of an achievement when you consider that our patients and donors are scattered far and wide, even from Alaska and Hawaii, and donor organs’ travel time is often greater, creating more risk,” Michael Mulligan, MD, chief of cardiothoracic surgery and lung transplant program director at UW Medicine, said in a press release.
PH patient Lindsey Decker, 33, of Tri-Cities, Washington, received two donor lungs on July 7. She had been battling the disease for the past decade, and it had progressed to the point that her heart and lungs had begun to fail, thus requiring a transplant.
“My heart is still working hard because it’s used to having to compensate. It will be a while longer before I get that deep-breath satisfaction because the nerves in my new lungs aren’t totally communicating with my body yet,” Decker said. “I’m still rebuilding muscles, and it’s quite a process.”
Decker expects to begin intense physical therapy this week, about a month after receiving the transplant, and said she hopes to be discharged from the hospital in early September. She expressed particular excitement at not having to deal with the side effects of the medication she has been on for the past 10 years, but now no longer needs — in particular, the fact that her skin looks red and sunburned.
Ken Price, now 56, of Kirkland, Washington, is UW Medicine’s longest transplant patient survivor. He received donor lungs 26 years before Decker, on July 7, 1993.
“I had cystic fibrosis [CF], and none of the therapies that extend life for CF patients today was available yet. So it was 100 percent fatal without a transplant, but it also was the early days of lung transplants and I was one of the first at UW Medical Center. Even with the transplant, the doctors didn’t sugarcoat it. I was told my prognosis was extremely uncertain,” Price said, reflecting on the relative rarity of such long post-transplant survival without major complications.
Figuring out how to keep transplants as safe as possible remains a challenge.
“Long-term graft acceptance is the big riddle that, if we could solve, we’d be in great shape,” Mulligan said. “What we’re doing in the lab now is trying to identify unique molecular signatures that would identify who might have that kind of acceptance, and we’re trying to develop treatments that produce that state.”
Mulligan called Price’s case a “wonderful state of tolerance that we all celebrate but cannot yet induce for any patient.”
For now, the UW Medicine team will keep performing transplants and hopes to research ways to make them more effective.
“We’re doing everything we can to help everyone we can,” said Mulligan, adding that “organ donation is critically important, and we’re asking everyone to lean in and support your community by signing up to be an organ donor.”