Artificial lung keeps young mother alive
From Thursday’s Globe and Mail
Shortly after Yen Tran gave birth to her son, Kenny, now 14 months old, the Markham woman started to feel short of breath.
As her condition worsened, Ms. Tran, 21, was diagnosed with primary pulmonary hypertension, a rare lung disorder.
The disease left her struggling to breathe and unable even to play with her new baby and twin toddlers. Her weakness made her think “I wasn’t qualified to be a mom,” Ms. Tran told a press conference Wednesday as she celebrated Valentine’s Day with the team from Toronto General Hospital who made medical history as they saved her life.
“We were doing cardio-pulmonary resuscitation while the device was going in, and we managed to put her on the device and support her, and she did not develop any other organ failure until we could get suitable organs,” said Dr. Shaf Keshavjee, director of the hospital’s lung-transplant program.
The $5,000 device, about the size of a CD case, is connected to an artery in the patient’s leg. Blood flows through it, across a thin membrane attached to an oxygen supply. Carbon dioxide is exchanged for oxygen, and the blood flows back into a vein in the leg.
Dr. Keshavjee said that doctors at the hospital, who are starting a formal trial of the device, hope to make regular use of it to keep patients alive while awaiting lung transplants.
Waiting times have gone down, but “still, 20 per cent of people waiting for a lung transplant will die before they get a suitable lung. This device provides a little bit of hope to those patients,” Dr. Keshavjee said.
It still is not clear how long the device, known to doctors as an interventional lung assist or iLA, can be used on a patient. To date, it has been used for up to a month.
Dr. Keshavjee said they will also test it as a way to help patients recover from a lung transplant. The second use of the Novalung at Toronto General was with a patient whose new lung did not begin to operate immediately.
Dr. Keshavjee said the team will be examining whether the device could also be used to supplement conventional ventilators, which can damage lungs at high air pressures.