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New Technology Used For First Time In Texas To Successfully Transplant "Unusable" Lungs

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DALLAS (CBS11) - New technology being tested in North Texas is breathing new hope into many in need of a lung transplant.

This spring, UT Southwestern surgeons became the first in Texas to transplant lungs tested and refurbished with new technology known as ex-vivo lung perfusion (EVLP).

John Herzig became the first patient in Texas to be transplanted with lungs evaluated with EVLP technology.

The 58-year-old former junior high basketball coach and school superintendent was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis earlier this year. He needed a lung transplant and soon.

Herzig-super lungs- and wife
John Herzig and his wife.(courtesy: UT Southwestern)

"It was really emotional for my family," Herzig said. "From the time I found out I had it,it was a waiting game as to what comes first - the lungs or my demise."

Last year, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing, more than 200 people died while waiting for a lung transplant.

Lungs are among the toughest organs to transplant because most are unusable.

"Currently, more than 70 percent of potential donor lungs are deemed unusable," said Dr. Fernando Torres, Medical Director of the Lung Transplantation Program at UT Southwestern.

This is where Dr. Torres said the EVLP technology will help. With the dome-shaped technology lungs, removed from a donor, can be tested and even refurbished before being transplanted.

"We can see how well these lungs inflate and deflate, see how well gas exchange is happening, and some of these lungs will be found to be suitable for transplant," Dr. Torres said.

EVLP is expected to increase the number of lungs available for transplant by 10 to 15 percent.

"It's a game changer on marginal lungs," said Dr. Michael Wait, UT Southwestern Chief of Cardiovascular and Thoracic Surgery. "Of all the organs you transplant , the lungs are the most finicky. They can change on a dime. This allows us to reverse that."

Herzig had been on the waiting list for a week, when a potentially set of lungs was donated.

Herzig said doctors told him those lungs would have likely been discarded in the past, but with the new EVLP technology they were tested and refurbished.

In April, Herzig received those donated lungs.

"I couldn't even walk from my car to my front door before this without having to stop for a long time to catch my breath," Herzig said. "Now, I can walk a half of mile and not even crack a sweat. It's great."

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