Health Beat: Lung in a box

LOS ANGELES - More than 1,600 people in the United States are currently on the waiting list for a lung transplant. Each year, hundreds of those patients miss the opportunity to receive an organ transplant because the donor lungs are either too far away or too damaged to be used. Now, however, a medical breakthrough is offering new hope.

Fernando Padilla is passionate about two things: his car and his family, but for more than two years he wasn't able to enjoy either because he had pulmonary fibrosis. His lungs were slowly being covered by scar tissue.

"I couldn't do anything. I couldn't function," said Fernando who was going through three cans of oxygen a day. "I would sit on the couch and if I dropped something, it was a struggle for me to pick it up."

A lung transplant was his only hope. When a donor was found, Padilla learned he'd make history by being the first man in the U.S.  to get donor lungs that were still breathing.

"We can keep a human organ alive outside of a human body," said Dr. Abbas Ardehali, director of the heart, lung, and heart-lung transplant programs at the David Geffen School of Medicine at UCLA.

The lungs are put in a high-tech box, where they are revived to a warm, breathing state. A machine circulates blood and oxygen through it, allowing the lungs to be outside of the body for eight hours or possibly more. 

"As far as the organ is concerned, it still feels like it is in a human body because it is still breathing," Ardehali said.

Today, Fernando is healthy and back in the driver's seat.

Before this invention, the traditional way to keep lungs was on ice in a cooler. The breathing lung device follows on the heels of heart in a box technology, which delivers donor hearts in a similar manner. Experts believe other such donor organs will soon use similar devices.

DOWNLOAD and VIEW research summary

DOWNLOAD and VIEW the full-length interview with Dr. Abbas Ardehali about a medical breakthrough for patients awaiting a lung transplant

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