ST. LOUIS, MO (KFSN) --On any given day, more than 1,600 people in North America are on a waiting list for new lungs. Many of those patients will not get the transplant they desperately need and will die waiting. Doctors say one challenge is that many potential donor lungs are too damaged for transplantation. But now, new technology is reconditioning lungs and saving lives.
Three years ago, COPD threatened the life of 63-year-old Michele Coleman.
"I collapsed in our shower. I felt like I was breathing, but I wasn't getting any air," Coleman says.
Last year, she was placed on the lung transplantation list, but a rare protein in her blood made things difficult.
"When they tell you your chances went from 100 percent to two percent of getting a donor match, it's devastating," Coleman says.
Now a new device may greatly improve the odds for patients needing lungs. It's called the XVIVO.
"XVIVO means out of body," says Gary Marklin, MD, Chief Medical Officer at Mid-America Transplant.
The device is a large sterile box designed to maintain and improve donated lungs. For up to six hours, lungs are placed in the machine, which brings them to body temperature. It is also a ventilator, opening up restricted airways and it circulates a special solution through the organs to improve their function.
"Its job is to take a lung that is subpar that would not be transplanted and treat it," details Dr. Marklin.
Varun Puri, MD, MSCI, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis says without XVIVO, only one in five donor lungs is healthy enough for transplantation. He says this device could have tremendous impact.
"My estimate is somewhere between the 10 to 20 percent range increase in the number of transplants due to this technology," says Dr. Puri.
Last November, Coleman received donor lungs that had been reconditioned in the box. Now the woman who couldn't walk more than three or four steps can stroll the neighborhood with her husband.
"You've got to keep your hope. You cannot give up," says Coleman.
The U.S. Food and Drug Administration approved the device for improving lungs to use in cases with patients who have end-stage lung disease and no other options. Doctors say about half of the lungs that undergo reconditioning are eligible for transplant.