Doctors in Ontario say they saved a woman’s life by removing her lungs for six days.
Melissa Benoit, 32, was born with cystic fibrosis and contracted a severe lung infection that landed her in a Toronto hospital.
Cystic fibrosis is a progressive, genetic disease that causes persistent lung infections and limits the ability to breathe over time.
Benoit was battling influenza, which required her to receive oxygen and enter the intensive care unit.
The infection eventually spread to her entire body, since the bacteria in her lungs was resistant to medication. She went into septic shock, her blood pressure dropped, and her organs stopped working, although she was on life support systems.
During this time, her doctors took drastic measures and literally extracted Benoit’s lungs. Dr. Shaf Keshavjee, director of the lung transplant program at Toronto General Hospital, said that by doing this, they were able to rid the source of sepsis.
Benoit was put in a medically-induced coma and was hooked up to two machines: A Novalung to essentially replace the lungs, and an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (or ECMO) to keep the blood pumping.
“It was her only option. For the first time ever, we had a patient in our intensive care unit with no lungs,” Keshavjee said. “In fact, she technically was on an artificial lung, an artificial heart, and an artificial kidney for six days.”
That is, until Benoit had enough strength to receive donor lungs.
When Benoit awoke and was told she had survived the week without lungs, she thought it was “science fiction.”
Nonetheless, she’s incredibly grateful.
“I have to thank my donor and my donor’s family,” Benoit said. “Without them, whatever procedure the physicians would have performed would have been useless.”
Although there’s no prognosis, Benoit is healthy and rarely coughs anymore.
“I’m the first in the world that they’ve tried this on. I’ll be the first in the world to see how long we live,” she said.