Melissa Benoit of Ontario, Canada accomplished a world first and survived for six days without any lungs, while waiting for a transplant.
Melissa Benoit was born with cystic fibrosis, a hereditary disease that causes mucus to build up to deadly levels in the lungs.
When she visited Toronto General Hospital last April, Benoit’s lungs were ravaged with an infection. She was hours away from death. But instead of witnessing another life cut too short, doctors decided to go down another road- one that’s never been traveled before. And it worked.
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Benoit was so sick because she had caught the flu and it wasn’t responding to antibiotics. With her condition of cystic fibrosis, the infection was storming ahead in her lungs and furthermore, causing fatal organ failure and septic shock throughout her body, as mucus and blood took over at the infection site.
Seeing how dire the situation was, a team led by Dr. Niall Ferguson had a novel idea.
He wanted to take Benoit’s lungs out and plug her into two machines that could do the work for her body.
He wished to use a Novalung, which would put oxygen into her blood and take carbon dioxide away, like a real lung, and link her up to extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, (ECMO). This would help her heart pump the machine-processed blood through her body.
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In a Coma
And so, the team did. With the family’s consent–they immediately agreed to try the procedure – Benoit was placed in an induced coma. She then had her lungs removed.
The operation took a total of 9 hours. It involved the work of a surgical team of 13 medical professionals and a few miracles.
When it was done, Benoit was hooked up to the machines, and left to wait until new lungs arrived. And she stayed like this… for six days.
When a pair of lungs from a donor with the right blood type did finally show up, doctors were able to complete the transplant. It’s the first time a procedure such as this has been done, making Benoit extremely thankful.
“She had made it very clear that she wants to live for her family, for her child, and to do anything — experimental or not — to give her a chance if we could do it,” said Dr. Shaf Keshavjee, the director of the lung transplant program and one of three thoracic surgeons to work on the case.
“It’s the simple things I missed the most,” Benoit is quoted by iflscience.com. “I want to be there for Chris and Olivia (her children), even through her temper tantrums! I want to hear Olivia’s voice, play with her and read her stories.”
And now she is.
The groundbreaking case was published in the Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery and is sure to help more to cases to come. For the moment, the results have given Benoit a new life and time with her family.