My new lungs are the perfect fit
Born with cystic fibrosis, Hayley Wall needed a life- saving transplant so surgeons cut down larger donor organs to fit her 4ft 8in frame. LAURA MILNE reports
progressively worsen to the point where she needed to use portable oxygen all the time. Her long- term use of antibiotics had also resulted in severe hearing loss and she now communicates by lip reading.
With time running out to find a match, the highly skilled team at Harefield hospital in north- west London, a specialist heart and lung hospital and one of the world’s longest established cardiopulmonary transplant centres, concluded that Hayley’s best chance of survival was a lobar lung transplant.
This would mean taking part of some larger donor lungs to fill the space Hayley’s damaged lungs occupied, rather than implanting the whole pair. Lungs are made of separate units, known as lobes, which each contain blood vessels, airways and lung tissue. The right lung contains three lobes and the left lung has two. When a set of donor lungs became available last December, surgeons at Harefield used revolutionary transplant technology, known as the Organ Care System, to ventilate them outside of the body and separate the individual lobes to ensure a perfect fit for Hayley.
Her transplant surgeon Fabio De Robertis says: “Very petite patients tend to remain on the waiting list for a long period and can sometimes run out of time waiting for organs of the right size to become available.
“Small patients have small lungs so it is not always possible to transplant an average- sized lung.
“To carry out a lobar transplant, where we remove lobes from each donor lung to match the size of the recipient’s lungs, the donor needs to be significantly taller than the recipient so that the lobe used is as big as the patient’s entire lung.”
Usually when organs are removed they are placed on ice to preserve them while they are transported from the donor to the recipient.
But the portable Organ Care System, developed in the US by TransMedics, keeps the lungs “breathing” outside the body from the moment they are removed from the donor until they are ready to be implanted in the recipient.
The lungs are placed in a sealed box with a pump that provides a supply of blood to the organ. A ventilator inflates and deflates the lungs, effectively mimicking the same conditions found in the body.
Hayley, who also has an older sister Lee- Ann, 33, says: “On the day of the transplant I was excited but I felt numb. When it was time to go I cried and hugged my mum goodbye. I knew the surgery was complex but all I wanted to do was have the transplant if it meant I would finally be able to breathe.”
Hayley woke up the day after the operation in intensive care. “I was told to take a deep breath which was scary because I never could before. As more days went by I could take deeper breaths. After 27 years of suffering it was a wonderful feeling,” she says.
Hayley, who is recovering well at home, adds: “At first I found the concept of donor lungs being cut to fit me quite scary but I’m amazed at the technology that made it happen.
“Getting my new lungs before Christmas was the best gift ever. I’m grateful to my donor and their family and I will do them proud. It took one person signing the Organ Donor Register to save my life.”
‘ After 27 years of suffering it was a wonderful feeling’