Woman survives six days without lungs

After she came down with a bout of flu a year ago, she was rushed from her home in Burlington, Canada to the intensive care unit at hospital in nearby Toronto.

The mother-of-one, who was born with cystic fibrosis, had a severe lung infection and was dying before the eyes of clinicians. "So I didn't really believe that I'd had a lung transplant".

"She had made it very clear that she wants to live for her family, for her child, and to do anything - experimental or not - to give her a chance if we could do it", said Keshavjee, one of three thoracic surgeons among a 13-member surgical team who took part in the nine-hour operation to extricate Benoit's severely diseased lungs.

But within hours, Benoit's condition improved dramatically. "In fact, she technically was on an artificial lung, an artificial heart, and an artificial kidney for six days".

"For the first time in my life, I can actually say that I feel like I'm living, despite the little consequences of the surgery". Melissa Benoit is now able to run and to play with her 2-year-old daughter without wheezing.

"Things were so bad for so long, we needed something to go right", Chris said, "and this new procedure was the first piece of good news in a long time".

Mrs Benoit was sedated and on a ventilator to help her laboured breathing when she was brought into the unit.

Dr. Niall Ferguson, head of critical care at the University Health Network that includes Toronto General, said doctors were heading into uncharted territory with the procedure. But now that she knows it's real, and has had time to recover, she's thrilled.

One woman in Ontario survived not only receiving a lung transplant, but also, not having lungs at ALL for a number of days.

Mrs Benoit's oxygen levels dipped so low that conventional ventilation was no longer enough.

Quietly, though, her team of doctors had been mulling a procedure that could extend her life but had never been tried. The condition worsens when other factors are involved.

The doctors were forced to remove both of Melissa's infected lungs because they were the source of a bacterial infection that was destroying her body from the inside.

"It was a hard discussion because when we're talking about something that had never to our knowledge been done before, there were a lot of unknowns", said Dr. Niall Ferguson, head of critical care at the University Health Network, which includes Toronto General. "We didn't know if we'd get [them] in one day or one month", said Keshavjee. (L to R): Dr. Shaf Keshavjee, Melissa Benoit, Dr. Marcelo Cypel and Dr. Tom Waddell.

The risky procedure carried a high risk of death - but was carried out after medics received the green light from Melissa's husband Chris.

"The only thing I could do was stick out my tongue", she said, and then only with the encouragement of her mother.

(Copyright © 2015. All Rights Reserved.)

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