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Pittsburgh-Developed Medical Device Saves Oklahoma Man

PITTSBURGH (KDKA) –- An Oklahoma man who came to Pittsburgh was the first in the U.S. to be implanted with a device that helped him survive until he could receive a double-lung transplant.

Jon Sacker of Moore, Okla., was born with cystic fibrosis and was rejecting a double-lung transplant from two years ago. His doctor in Oklahoma made a call to Pittsburgh with a desperate plea for help.

"Essentially, he was relentless," Dr. Joseph Pilewski, UPMC Lung Specialist, said. "He wouldn't take no for an answer. We don't like to bring patients from halfway across the country if we don't have anything to offer."

Sacker came to UPMC Presbyterian for his second lung transplant, but high carbon dioxide levels in his lungs made him too sick for the surgery. He was then placed on the Hemolung Respiratory Assist System (RAS), which is not yet FDA approved. Sacker's doctors worked to notify Food and Drug Administration officials of the intent to use the Hemolung RAS and to get emergency approval from the local hospital officials.

After being on the Hemolung for 20 days, he had recovered enough to go through with the double-lung transplant in March.

"Jon was in very critical condition when he came to Pittsburgh, and the Hemolung was a lifesaver for him while waiting for his second lung transplant," Dr. Maria Crespo, associate medical director of UPMC's Lung Transplant Program, said.

The Hemolung RAS, a Pittsburgh-made device, helped to filter out the carbon dioxide and provide healthy oxygen to Sacker's blood.

"I can say without a doubt, the device itself, I'm here because of it," Sacker said.

The device was initially developed several years ago as the Paracorporeal Respiratory Assist Lung, created by a bioengineering doctoral student and Dr. William Federspiel, director of the Medical Devices Laboratory at the joint UPMC- and University of Pittsburgh-run McGowan Institute for Regenerative Medicine.

It then underwent product development and was commercialized as the Hemolung RAS by ALung Technologies, a company founded by Federspiel and UPMC's former chief of lung transplant, Dr. Brack G. Hattler.

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