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Woman Lives 6 Days Without Lungs Waiting For Transplant

Dorathy Gass

Hard to believe, based on the title, but medical advances have come a long way and a recent story coming out of Toronto, Canada proves just that. A woman recently was able to survive six days without lungs while she awaited a transplant.

Her husband made the hard decision, of either watching his wife pass away on an operating table or bed, and went the route of trying a first-ever experimental procedure that saw surgeons take both of his wife’s lungs out. As his wife had been unconscious for some time, Chris Benoit made the choice based on past discussions.

CNN revealed that Chris’ wife, Melissa Benoit was dealing with a cystic fibrosis infection over the past three years that had spread to her entire lungs. While she had been on intravenous antibiotics, when she got the flu, this triggered coughing fits, and Melissa (aged 32 at the time) suffered from fractured ribs as a result. The woman landed in Toronto’s St. Michael’s hospital last March.

While she initially thought they would just switch her antibiotics, she ended up landing in ICU.
Unconscious at the time, the infection was uncontrollable and by April, Melissa moved to the Intensive Care Unit at Toronto’s General Hospital. Her condition worsened to severe bacterial infection of the lungs and the illness was quite drug-resistant. By this point pus and blood consumed her lungs and she struggled to breath. She clearly required a donor lung, however a traditional ventilator did not have the capabilities to assist her breathing until a lung transplant occurred.

Which was when the decision was made to place Melissa on an Extra-Corporeal Lung Support. The device is a temporary medical life-support used to help patients that are waiting for a donor organ. The machine works as lungs do: draining blood from the body, giving it oxygen and taking carbon dioxide away, and then pumping clean blood back into the body.

While for others, the machine can help one stay alive; for Melissa, it only worsened her condition. Her lungs had been taking over by infection, entering her bloodstream, which resulted in septic shock – meaning the doctors could not perform a lung transplant.

Talking with family first, the choice was made to move forward with the surgery, a first of its kind, to remove both of Benoit’s lungs. Once removed, the medical team placed a Novalung (a support system of this organ that helps to add oxygen to the blood and is used on patients with lung issues before they are removed) to the right side of Benoit’s heart and it worked with the Extra-Corporeal Lung Support to help with respiratory.

Within hours after the surgery, Benoit began to improve. Most organs were seemingly repairing and she no longer needed blood pressure medicine. She was placed on the lung transplant waiting list and six days later, received a match. The even better news is that the cystic fibrosis will not come back in Melissa’s new lungs, as per her doctors, however as the condition is in her genes, it may affect other parts of her body.

The best news of all, is that Melissa is back to living a normal, healthy life, and focusing on her family: which includes spending time with her hubby that made the brave decision to move forward with the unorthodox procedure and her young daughter.

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