For 63-year-old Michele Coleman, every birthday has special meaning. Three years ago, COPD began to threaten her life.
"I collapsed in our shower. I felt like I was breathing, but I wasn't getting any air,"
Coleman was placed on the lung transplantation list last year, but a rare protein in her blood made things difficult.
"When they tell you your chances went from 100 percent to two percent of getting a donor match, it's devastating," Coleman detailed.
Now, a new device may greatly improve the odds for patients needing lungs. It's called the XVIVO.
"XVIVO means out of body," said Dr. Gary Marklin, the chief medical officer at Mid-America Transplant.
The device is a large sterile box designed to maintain and improve donated lungs. For up to six hours, lungs are placed in the machine, which brings them to body temperature. It is also a ventilator, opening up restricted airways and it circulates a special solution through the organs to improve their function.
"Its job is to take a lung that is subpar, that would not be transplanted, and treat it," Marklin said.
Dr. Varun Puri, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, said without XVIVO, only one in five donor lungs is healthy enough for transplantation. He said this device could have tremendous impact.
"My estimate is somewhere between the 10 to 20 percent range increase in the number of transplants due to this technology," Puri explained.
Last November, Coleman received donor lungs that had been reconditioned in the box. Now, the woman who couldn't walk more than three or four steps can stroll the neighborhood with her husband.
"You've got to keep your hope. You cannot give up," said Coleman.
The United States Food and Drug Administration approved the device for improving lungs to use in cases with patients who have end-stage lung disease and no other options.
Doctors say about half of the lungs that undergo reconditioning are eligible for transplant.