Tuesday, April 01, 2008

Man hoping for rare second double-lung transplant

Judy & Barry Gross
Man gets second chance to catch his second wind
Freemansburg, Pennsylvania patient Barry Gross, seen here with his wife Judy, is among the rarest of the rare, up for a repeat double-lung transplant.

From The Morning Call in Pennsylvania:
Barry Gross is preparing to undergo something fewer than 200 people in this country have ever had -- a second double-lung transplant.

The 51-year-old Freemansburg man enjoyed such a successful double-lung transplant 13 years ago that doctors at the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania in Philadelphia are willing to give him a chance at another.

Gross is strong mentally and physically, said Dr. Jason Christie, one of his physicians and director of clinical research for pulmonary and critical care at the hospital.

''Re-dos'' are not common, he added, explaining that a second double-lung transplant is reserved for patients whose health problems don't extend beyond the lungs. Because Gross experienced no other organ damage from the medicines or his condition, he is considered a healthy, relatively low-risk candidate and expects his name to be added officially to the waiting list next week.

Nationwide, double-lung transplants are still fairly rare. Of the 28,352 organs transplanted last year, for example, 911 involved a pair of lungs. And because of added risks, only 182 people have undergone a second since the United Network for Organ Sharing began keeping such records in October 1987.

''He's my iron man,'' said Judy Gross, his wife of 28 years.

Barry Gross, a former Bethlehem Steel Corp. laborer and house painter, underwent his first double-lung transplant at the Philadelphia hospital on Aug. 24, 1995. He needed it because of a genetic deficiency that affects fewer than 10,000 Americans, including his mother, siblings and a cousin.

He needs another transplant because lung infections sent him to the hospital for intravenous medicines more times in the past two years than in the 10 years before that.

No one knew how long the first set of lungs would keep him well.

''Not many of us are out there for 12-13 years,'' Gross said.

The deficiency he and some of his relatives were born with is a lack of the plasma protein alpha-1 antitrypsin. When present, the protein protects the lungs from enzymes that can destroy the tissue.

When it's missing, the lungs and sometimes other organs are prone to infection. The lungs lose their elasticity and it becomes harder to breathe. Some medicines can delay the damage but the only long-term solution is a transplant, though even that doesn't cure the underlying disease.

Gross knew he had the deficiency because his family flew to Boston when he was 12 or 13 to have everyone tested. Because he had no symptoms for years into adulthood, Gross thought he was immune.

''My mom had it, too, but she didn't have breathing problems until she was in her 70s because she never smoked,'' he said. ''Us kids all smoked, making it go faster.''

By the time his diseased lungs were replaced with the pristine ones of a 22-year-old, Gross' organs had become so enlarged that his wife said it took four X-rays to see them fully. And Gross needed supplemental oxygen 24 hours a day.

The transplant changed all that practically overnight.

The hospital's transplant team gave Gross the nickname ''Iron Man,'' his wife said, because he was up and out of bed 24 hours after surgery and continued to do well in spite of a stroke days later that temporarily paralyzed the right side of his body.

Once he regained feeling and function, ''everything just took off,'' Judy Gross said.

Initially, she thought the doctors and nurses were paying lip service to the family by telling them he was doing well. Now that they have approved him for another transplant, his wife said she knows, ''He genuinely was doing outrageously well.''

Gross went home from the hospital after four weeks and went to Disney World with his family four months after the operation. Read the full article.

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