Thursday, February 19, 2009

Artificial lung kept teen alive until transplant

This story has special meaning for me because Dr. Shaf Keshavjee is the surgeon that performed my lung transplant and saved my life. He is one of the world's leading scientists in the field of lung transplant research and lung transplant surgery. His body of work is having a global impact and I am proud to know him.

Dr.Shaf Keshavjee

Katie Sutherland, a lung transplant patient who was kept alive with an external artificial lung system, speaks with Canada AM in Toronto on Wednesday, Feb. 18, 2009.
Go the CTV story for photos, video report,  interviews

Last summer, 16-year-old Katie Sutherland was on the brink of death, her lungs failing, her heart working far too hard. She needed a lung transplant quickly but no good matches were available.

Then, her doctors at Toronto's Hospital for Sick Children decided they would take a risk and try something that had never been performed before on a child. They hooked her up to an external artificial lung system.

The procedure allowed Katie to stay alive for an entire month -- long enough for suitable donor lungs to become available. Today, with new lungs in her chest, Katie is resuming a normal life, thanks to the bold decision of her doctors.

The device the doctors used was the German-made Novalung. The device takes over much of the job of circulating her blood, filling it with oxygen and filtering out the carbon dioxide. Unlike older artificial lungs which were run by mechanical pumps, Novalung is powered by the patient's own heartbeat.

Just two years ago, an Ontario mother became the first adult patient in North America to be hooked up to a Novalung, when doctors at Toronto General Hospital helped Yen Tran stay alive long enough for a heart and lung transplant.

Like Tran, Katie was suffering from pulmonary hypertension, a rare disorder in which the blood vessels in the lungs constrict, forcing the heart to work much harder than normal.

In the days before her surgery, Katie's heart was failing fast. It had swelled up to four times its regular size but was still unable to pump enough blood.

A 10-member team led by Dr. Shaf Keshavjee, Dr. Marc de Perrot and Dr. Andrew Pierre, SickKids cardiovascular thoracic surgeons, decided Katie needed surgery fast.

Keshavjee (pictured) told Canada AM Wednesday that Katie was so ill in the hours before her surgery, she almost certainly would have died that night.

"Patients with pulmonary hypertension are amongst the most challenging because they die so quickly and so suddenly," he said.

"So this (Novalung) really does open the doors and gives us a bridge for a period of time for when we might get an organ donor."

The three-hour surgery was difficult; at one point, Katie's weakened heart went into cardiac arrest.

But afterwards, the teen's condition improved almost immediately. Two days after being put on the Novalung, Katie could go off her ventilator. She was able to sit up in her hospital bed, eat, and talk with family and friends while attached to the artificial lung.

Then, 30 days later, Katie's family got the news they had been waiting for so long: a pair of donor lungs had become available.

Katie is now home again with her new pair of lungs, back to school and just returned from a surfing trip. Her father, Paul Sutherland, is filled with gratitude for the staff at SickKids.

"We know that Katie's life has been saved, and we are incredibly thankful to the staff," he says. "To actually experience a technological step forward is very humbling."

And Katie is amazed that an artificial lung the size of a portable CD player kept her alive.

"It just seems unreal that this little box saved my life," she told Canada AM.

“You Have the Power to Save Lives – Sign Your Donor Card & Tell Your Loved Ones of Your Decision”

Register to be a donor in Ontario or Download Donor Cards from Trillium Gift of Life Network
For other Canadian provinces click here

In the United States, be sure to find out how to register in your state at or Download Donor Cards from OrganDonor.Gov

In Great Britain, register at NHS Organ Donor Register

In Australia, register at Australian Organ Donor Register

Your generosity can save up to eight lives with heart, kidneys, liver, lungs, pancreas and small intestine transplants. One tissue donor can help up to 100 other people by donating skin, corneas, bone, tendon, ligaments and heart valves

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