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A glimmer of hope at the end of a tragic week


ANN ARBOR, Mich. — At the end of what University of Michigan Health System staff members have said is among the most tragic weeks in UMHS history, there was a glimmer of hope for the future. This morning, the patient who was unable to receive a double-lung transplant when the plane carrying his organs crashed into Lake Michigan is recovering in University Hospital after being transplanted with a second set of lungs. He could be back home in several weeks.

The U-M Transplant Center team learned late June 5 that donor organs were available, and quickly began preparations for what they hoped would be a double-lung transplant operation for the 50-year-old Michigan man whose family has allowed U-M to share details of the surgery but has asked that his name not be used.

Andrew C. Chang, M.D., surgical director of lung transplant and assistant professor of general thoracic surgery, Christine Lau, M.D., assistant professor of general thoracic surgery, and their team of surgeons, anesthesiologists, nurses, technologists, transplant coordinators and specialists began the more than seven-hour surgery just after 8 p.m. June 6. It concluded early Thursday morning, June 7.

The organs were transported by chartered plane from the donor hospital to Willow Run Airport, where a U-M transplant donation specialist met the plane and transported the organs back to the U-M Health System by the Survival Flight helicopter.

“Although the patient remains in critical condition, he is significantly improved,” says Chang.

“We are relieved that we were able to do this transplant and give this man another chance for life. Our friends that died in the crash would have wanted us to go on with our work,” says Jeffrey Punch, M.D., F.A.C.S., director of the Division of Transplantation at U-M.

“We’re so grateful this transplant has happened,” says a member of the patient’s family, who asked to remain anonymous. “We were devastated and heartbroken when we learned about the crash on Monday, not only for our family member, but for the families of those wonderful men who gave their lives to help him.”

Recovery from a double-lung transplant is an arduous process, but the surgery was successful and the patient is doing well

“This wonderful news doesn’t in any way relieve the acute pain we are feeling at the loss of our dedicated Survival Flight crew; what it does is remind us of the incredible work we are doing to help others in their greatest time of need,” Robert P. Kelch, M.D., the University’s executive vice president for Medical Affairs and chief executive officer of the Health System, said in an e-mail message this morning to the Health System’s faculty, staff and students. “Once again, you are putting aside our own concerns to attend to those of others. And it is magnificent that this team has continued the work of our team that we lost. I couldn’t be more proud of our Transplant Center team, our Survival Flight team and the rest of the Health System faculty, staff and students who are making a huge difference in people’s lives. The past week is an eloquent example of just how important your work is to others. Thank you, thank you, thank you.”

The patient, a long-time smoker, needed the transplant because of a condition called chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder or COPD. He has been on the waiting list for a double-lung transplant since November of 2006.

Written by: Mary Beth Reilly


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