Emergency for Lungs

Lung transplant patients benefit from ambulatory artificial lungs

/ Author:  / Reviewed by: Joseph V. Madia, MD

(RxWiki News) Organs available for transplant are scarce and must go to patients who will most likely benefit. A new device assists patients waiting for a lung transplant to maintain recipient viability.

The sicker these critically ill patients become, the less likely that they will be good candidates to receive one of the limited number of lungs available for transplant. Their health outcomes are greatly enhanced by remaining ambulatory, which means mobile.

Once bedridden, patients become increasingly weak and eventually can no longer can be considered candidates for a lung transplant due to their health status.

"If waiting for an organ transplant, keep exercising."

Joseph Zwischenberger, M.D., chairman of the University of Kentucky (UK) Department of Surgery reports that this device helps patients oxygenate their blood by transporting blood through a gas exchanger designed to remove carbon dioxide before returning it to the heart. This method bypasses the patient's lungs.

The machine, called the bi-caval double lumen catheter, is meant for patients who are too sick to be on a ventilator and need a bridge treatment for patients in severe respiratory failure waiting for lung transplants.

Dr. Zwischenberger reports that UK and Charles Hoopes, M.D. director of the UK Heart and Lung Transplant Program and the Ventricular Assist Device Program, are implementing this technique now and it is believed to be one of the only places in the United States that is adopting the use of ambulatory extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) as a bridge to eventual lung transplant.

During the current protocol, a patient remains sedated while on the extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). As a result, the patient is bedridden, which usually leads to muscles becoming very weak.

However, Dr. Zwischenberger's device is an advanced form of ECMO, also known as "ambulatory artificial lungs." Dr. Zwischenberger's goal is to allow patients to do normal things, even exercise, while using the device.

That goal was achieved on April 8, when Dr. Hoopes performed surgery on Ernie Gillispie, of Canada, Ky, that allowed the use of this new device.

Dr. Hoopes explains that machine proved that if Gillispie's lungs worked properly, he could live a normal life. He was able to elevate his status as an organ transplant candidate by his success on the machine. This improvement made him an excellent organ transplant candidate.

Dr. Hoopes explained that if a patient cannot exercise after their breathing is 'replaced' with an artificial lung, the patient is no longer considered an organ transplant candidate. It is a competition of sorts, as there are very few donor organs and those that can display an ability to lead a normal life after transplant are most likely to receive the organs.

Only three days after using the artificial lung, Gillispie received a double-lung transplant that was successful.

Reviewed by: 
Review Date: 
August 5, 2011
Last Updated:
August 10, 2011