Living without lungs for six days saves woman's life


28 January, 2017

For six days, Melissa Benoit lived without lungs as she waits for her donor.

Benoit's heart was attached to a small artificial lung, the rest of the equipment circulated her blood and oxygen.

Several times on that Sunday in late April, doctors brought family members in to say goodbye to the then-32-year-old mother.

But befire they could do that, they had to answer numerous questions: Could they maintain the oxygen and blood pressure levels once the lungs were remove?

The doctors had no choice but to recommend a high-risk and experimental surgical approach - removing the woman's lungs, and keeping her on life support until a viable donor could be identified.

"But I'm just so grateful, so happy to be home", said Benoit.

"These are things that I want so badly in life and I wouldn't have made it". "We didn't know if we'd get [them] in one day or one month", said Keshavjee. "Melissa gave us the courage to go ahead".

Thoracic surgeons at Toronto General Hospital (TGH), part of the University Health Network (UNH), performed the procedure on 33-year-old Melissa Benoit.

The devices that was used to replace her lungs works by removing carbon dioxide from red blood cells and then oxygenating them. When she arrived to the hospital with a very severe lung infection doctors estimated that she had mere hours to live.

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'This was bold and very challenging, but Melissa was dying before our eyes, ' Dr Shav Keshavjee, one of the doctors who operated on Melissa, said.

"It was a hard discussion because when we're talking about something that had never to our knowledge been done before, there were a lot of unknowns", Dr Niall Ferguson of the University Health Network, the health authority responsible for the Toronto general hospital, told a news conference on Wednesday. One by one, her organs began shutting down.

A pair of lungs finally became available six days later and the pioneering transplant she underwent was a success.

The Canadian nurse with cystic fibrosis was kept alive for six days with the help of a similar ECMO achine.

When she woke up, Benoit was unaware of the steps that had been taken to save her life.

When the ventilator was insufficient to offer the necessary support, she was placed on a life support machine - but her situation continued to worsen. Her lungs were inflamed and began to fill with blood, pus and mucous, decreasing the amount of air entering her lungs.

Now, she has recovered to the extent where she is able to walk unassisted - and hopes to receive a further kidney transplant from her mother after the ordeal damaged her kidneys.

"We needed this chance", Chris said. She has not needed a walker or cane for the past month and can play with her daughter Olivia for whole days without getting exhausted. "I get to be home and it is the best feeling in the world".

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