Phoenix, Ariz. – A Hawaii mother-of-two has received a revolutionary type of lung transplant at St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. Now looking forward to enjoying a family night out in Waikiki, Estelle Ellington says the new “sci-fi” technology saved her life.
For more than 10 years, Ellington, who lives in Mililani Mauka, suffered from severe pulmonary fibrosis. As her condition worsened and she began relying on supplemental oxygen, Ellington’s pulmonologist, Eric Crawley, MD, at Tripler Army Medical Center in Honolulu referred her to Rajat Walia, MD, a lung transplant pulmonologist at St. Joseph’s in Phoenix.
“Everything just fell into place as it was meant to happen,” says Ellington, 53, who temporarily relocated with her husband, Henry, to Phoenix for her best chance at having a life-saving lung transplant which occurred on May 28.
Ellington says they didn’t know there was an option to receive warm, “breathing” lungs until she was ready to be put on the transplant list. Just two weeks after being listed, Ellington received donor lungs that were preserved with a new technology that doctors at St. Joseph’s hope could revolutionize the field of lung transplantation.
This “sci-fi” technology involves an experimental organ-preservation device called the Organ Care System by TransMedics, which keeps donor lungs “breathing” by perfusing them with oxygen and a special solution supplemented with packed red-blood cells. The donor lungs actually expand and contract inside the special box even while in transport.
“This is an exciting time for lung transplant,” says Michael Smith, MD, associate chief of thoracic surgery and surgical director of lung transplantation at St. Joseph’s, who also leads the clinical trial for the Phoenix hospital. “With this technology, we’re not only able to keep the lungs living while outside the body, but we’re also able to monitor and potentially improve lung function prior to transplant.”
“It’s been an uphill battle, but Estelle is doing great,” says Henry, who is a physician’s assistant at Waianae Coast Comprehensive Health Center’s emergency department. “I think it’s a smart idea to offer warm, breathing lungs to patients. Lungs were never meant to be placed on ice.”
“I am feeling okay now, but sometimes I have to remind myself that it’s me breathing, and not a machine,” says Ellington, who has lived with her family on the island of Oahu for nearly 20 years. “We hope the people of Hawaii will become aware of medical advances for the treatment of severe lung disorders.”
St. Joseph’s is one of only five sites in the nation offering this unique technology. The hospital’s lung transplant program, which is just six-years-old, has performed more than 200 transplants and included patients from around the nation, ages 16 to 71.
Lung transplants are among the most complicated surgical procedures. Following surgery, lung transplant recipients receive lifelong care and regular check-ups with transplant pulmonologists. In the United States, more than 116,000 men, women and children currently need life-saving organ transplants.