Woman received lung transplant through new UMD procedure

Susan Dunnett's emphysema made it nearly impossible for her to do anything.

It would take the 65-year-old up to 40 minutes to get up the steps and it as long as 20 minutes to get out of bed.

“I just didn't have the breath for it,” she says.

A doctor, Aldo Iacono, says she probably had about a year to six months to live.

Dr. Iacono knew the 40-year-smoker only had one hope for survival.

“There is no medical therapy for treatment for emphysema when end stage-only treatment is a lung transplant,” the doctor says.

In August, Dunnett became the first person in the country to receive a lung transplant through a new experimental treatment called lung perfusion at the University of Maryland Medical Center.

With this, the donor's lungs are placed on a machine that is able to reverse damage done at death that previously made many lungs unsuitable for transplant.

“We are able to circulate through the lungs a proprietary solution that helps the lungs restore themselves,” says Dr. Bartley Griffith. “And we can look at the lung on the rig and say it's getting better.”

Doctors say if this process saves four out of 10 lungs, it would nearly double the number of lungs available for the thousands of people waiting for a transplant.

“Unfortunately some of our patients never get a chance to have a transplant, the more we can do as physicians and scientists to improve those odds the better,” Griffith says.

It took Dunnett a couple months to recover from surgery. But now she feels great and doctors say her lungs are fully functional.

“I feel like I never smoked a cigarette- never had trouble breathing I feel normal,” Dunnett says. “It's given me my life back.”