New Lung Transplant Technology Saves Oklahoma Man
ENID, Oklahoma - The number of patients who need a lung transplant far exceeds the number of donor organs available.
While doctors performed more than 2,000 lung transplants in the United States last year, more than 200 people still died while waiting for a transplant, including one Oklahoman.
News 9’s Kelly Ogle traveled to Dallas to show you how a piece of new technology saved a pair of donor lungs and one Oklahoman's life.
"I started going downhill real fast," remembers John Herzig, a lung transplant patient.
A year ago, something as simple as walking out to his tractor wasn't a possibility for Herzig.
"I couldn't walk from the car into the house without having to stop for two minutes and catch my breath," he said.
Herzig had pulmonary fibrosis and needed a lung transplant fast.
"I started thinking 'well, I've had a good life, if I don't make it, I don't make it," Herzig said. "I didn't want to die."
He got on the donor list in April and got a call after only seven days.
"I was scared, I was intimidated," he said. "When they take mine out that's it, you get one shot at it."
Dr. Fernando Torres at UT Southwestern Medical Center in Dallas found a match for John through a clinical trial using the ex-vivo lung perfusion machine.
"We can then see how the lungs are improving over time," Dr. Torres said. "On the monitor, we can see the change in pressure."
Before Ex-Vivo, Dr. Torres says they would have never used Herzig's lungs in a transplant patient. In fact, doctors throw out more than 70 percent of the potential donor lungs because they are deemed unusable. However, with the ex-vivo lung perfusion, Dr. Torres tested John's questionable donor lungs for about three hours.
"We harvested the organs, we put them in the machine and absolutely, the organs looked great, the oxygenation was good the flow through the organ was good," he said.
So, they rushed the lungs two doors down where Herzig was prepped and ready for the transplant.
"You know what, I just knew," Herzig said. "For some reason I just knew to accept these lungs."
John became the first patient in Oklahoma and Texas to be transplanted with lungs tested through the ex-vivo machine, which was a success.
"In a matter of 12 days, he was walking around the unit not needing any oxygen whatsoever for any type of activity," Dr. Torres said.
Now, at 58, Herzig is home on his farm in Enid, with his wife.
"It's been a blessing. It feels pretty good," he said. "You know, I didn't think I was gonna get that extra time. To have gone from where I was to now is just incredible."
With this new technology, doctors are hoping to increase the donor pool to about 6-10 additional transplants a year. Once the clinical trial ends in the next year, the findings will go to the FDA for approval.