New Technologies Deliver 'Breathing Lungs' to Transplant Patients

PHOTO: 57-year-old Fernando Padilla of Alta Loma, Calif., became the first in the country to receive a "breathing lung" transplant in mid November.PlayABC NEWS
WATCH California Man Undergoes 'Breathing Lung' Transplant

When it came time for 57-year-old Fernando Padilla Jr. to receive a lung transplant, he said he had no idea whether the surgery would help him breathe normally again.

But not even two weeks after he received the new organs, Padilla, who had pulmonary fibrosis, is back on his feet, breathing without an oxygen tank, feeling grateful for a second lease on life.

"I don't have to ask people for help anymore," Padilla told ABC News. "I have energy. I can pick stuff up off the floor."

During Padilla's transplant surgery, Doctors used a new device called the Organ Care System, which kept his new lungs "breathing" after his donor had died and while the surgery was taking place.

  • New technologies keep the lungs breathing during a transplant surgery. This may increase the amount of transplants that can take place.

Typically, according to Dr. Abbas Ardehali of Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center who performed Padilla's transplant, only 30 percent of all donated lungs can be used in a lung transplant.

"Hundreds waiting for lungs die on the wait-list each year," said Ardehali.

But new ways of doing lung transplants, technologies that can keep the lungs "moving" during surgery, could change all that.

"I was nervous, but I went for it," said Padilla.

Pulmonary fibrosis is a disease that hardens the lungs, making it difficult for them to expand.

A carpenter all his life, Padilla had helped build Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, the same hospital where he received his new lungs.

"This promising 'breathing lung' technology enables us to potentially improve the function of the donor lungs before they are placed in the recipient," said Ardehali, who said he planned to perform more transplants soon using the Organ Care System device.

Designed by TransMedics and approved by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration, the Organ Care System device pumps oxygen into the lungs, supplying them with red blood cells.

After receiving the new lungs, Ardehali said patients could resume their normal lives.

The Organ Care System is just one of the new technologies that can nourish the lungs outside the human body.

Dr. Frank D'Ovidio, with the lung transplant program at New York Presbyterian Hospital, has performed successful lung transplants using the "ex vivo" system by Vitrolife within an FDA multi-centered trial.

"This is an exciting time for lung transplantation," he said. "These methodologies are changing the way we assess and procure the lungs for transplantation."

Doctors believe these advances will help bring the new organ to the recipient in the healthiest way possible, which could allow for more transplants.

"It is my opinion, that the number of suitable donor lungs will rise with the Organ Care System, and we'll be able to treat a larger population," said Ardehali.

The Organ Care System kept Padilla's new lungs "breathing" after his donor had died.

As for Padilla, he said he already feels 80 percent better.

"I'm very grateful to my doctors. I didn't expect all of this, but I'm glad at the least for my kids that their father was the first one to go through this," said Padilla.

He said he'd love to meet to meet the family of his donor who saved his life. He'd like to say "thank you."