UT Southwestern Medical Center achieved a milestone when it performed its 500th lung transplant. The procedure was performed on Christopher Bryant Vera, a patient who suffers from the chronic and debilitating disease cystic fibrosis (CF), putting UT Southwestern in an exclusive list of less than 25 medical facilities in the United States that have reached this benchmark.
For patients who suffer from severe lung conditions, such as CF, lung transplantation is often the only option that guarantees survival, explaining the relevance of entering this list of less than 25 U.S. medical centers that performed over 500 lung transplants. This procedure also helped UTSW surpass the mark of 1,000 cardiothoracic transplants, which includes both heart and lung transplants, conducted at UT Southwestern.
Associate professor of Internal Medicine and Medical Director of Lung Transplantation, Fernando Torres, explained the double achievement reached with the procedure. In addition to the benchmark, the physician noted that all transplants are singular accomplishments, emphasizing the importance of the procedure for Vera’s health.
“Having performed 500 lung transplants is an important milestone because it indicates a level of care that is a little different from institutions that don’t do many transplants,” said Dr. Torres, a pulmonologist who also heads UT Southwestern’s Pulmonary Hypertension Program. “Large-volume centers tend to have better outcomes for patients.”
The increasing number of lung transplants conducted at UT Southwestern is important not only for the center, but also for patients in need of new organs. According to the United Network for Organ Transplant, over the past three years over 60 lungs were annually transplanted, putting UT Southwestern as the number eight center on the list of institutions that perform the procedure in the country. “It reflects our durability, and demonstrates that we have clinical excellence − that our referring doctors and patients trust us,” expressed the chief of the Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery Service and professor of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery at William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital, Michael Wait. Both Wait and Torres believe the Lung Transplant Program will continue to grow with new techniques and technologies.
Most recently, UT Southwestern has acquired a new “ex vivo perfusion” technology for the Lung Transplant Program, which is expected to improve lung examination and the viability of donated organs. “We are the only lung-transplant center in the state using this technology to test organs that otherwise could not be used for transplant,” explained Torres.
The lung transplant performed on Christopher Bryant Vera, 25 years old, took place at the new William P. Clements Jr. University Hospital at the UT Southwestern and was a life-changing moment for the CF patient. The biggest priority for the patient now is to pursue his dream of working and having a family. “It was a great gift from the donor’s family and I’m going to do my best to make my life worthwhile,” said Vera. For the patient, more than the milestone, the importance of UT Southwestern’s 500th lung transplant will reflect in his own life, after struggling to live with CF since his diagnosis at only five weeks old.
Due to the defect in the CFTR gene, patients who suffer from CF produce thick, sticky mucus that accumulates in the small airways of the lungs, causes shortness of breath and increased probability of developing lung infections. Vera remembers that when he knew about the transplant, “it was a wave of emotion. I felt so many things at once – happy, scared, grateful.”
Mr. Vera is now recovering and said one of the main benefits he is already experiencing is the independence of artificial oxygen or daily breathing treatments. “These lungs are great!” he said, while Dr. Torres added: “You cannot hear that too many times. Every time is special not only for us and our patient, but for their whole community of family and friends. It is the reason we’re all here.”