Opera Singer Thrives After Double Lung Transplant

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A Lung Breathing Outside the Body

Tilleman-Dick's story highlights the incredible medical feats made possible by organ transplantation, but it was the next presenter at TEDMED, Dr. Shaf Keshavjee, director of the Toronto Lung Program, who is taking transplants to a realm usually left to science fiction.

"Charity would not be alive today if it were not for her lung transplant," Keshavjee said Tuesday. He "marvels" at what transplant can do for patients today and the technology he and his colleagues are working on with hopes to extend the number of patients who can undergo transplantation by improving the quality of donor organs available.

How does he intend to do that? Using an apparatus he helped create that allows a human lung to breathe and live outside of the human body. Using a freshly-harvested pig lung as a demonstration on stage Tuesday, Keshavjee showed how a donor lung can live independent of any body long enough for doctors to use sophisticated therapies on it, such as genetic modification, that make it more suitable for donation.

"It's fascinating," domestic guru and TEDMED attendee Martha Stewart said as she, as one of a few volunteers from the audience, was allowed to squeeze the breathing lung with a gloved hand.

Normally, to slow the process of dying, donor tissues are flash-cooled, a process that makes it harder for the organ to get up and running once transplanted. With this apparatus, the lung not only doesn't have to be cooled but it can be treated and improved and hopefully, one day can be made to match the patient's body so closely that rejection -- the ruin of many transplantations -- will no longer be an issue.

"We have transplanted 30 patients with lungs we wouldn't normally use [using this technology]. Now 30 people are alive. It's something I certainly never thought I would see in my lifetime," he says.

TEDMED is a yearly conference dedicated to increasing innovation in the medical realm: "from personal health to public health, devices to design and Hollywood to the hospital," the website explains.

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