Bold procedure saves Burlington woman's life

A Canadian woman's bout with influenza has turned her into a medical pioneer. This was the case for 33-year-old Melissa Benoit, a mother of one, who was able to survive for nearly a week without her lungs.

Doctors have saved a woman's life by removing her lungs for six days as she awaited a transplant - in what is believed to be the first procedure of its kind to be ever undertaken.

In a "bold and very challenging move" surgeons at Toronto General Hospital removed Melissa Benoit's severely infected lungs to buy her time to receive a life-saving lung transplant. Her lungs were as hard as a football and filled with pus, mucous and blood.

Still, that initial decision to remove her lungs - the source of an antibiotic-resistant infection that had tipped her into widespread organ failure and septic shock - wasn't taken lightly. "She got into a spiral from which her lungs were not going to recover". It's something that is taken for granted so easily during the day.

By April, she gasped for air with every breath.

So far, Benoit has not experienced signs of rejection from her body, seeing that she received a transplant of a major set of organs such as the lungs.

Lung transplant surgery is deemed as an effective approach for treating diseases that have destroyed the lungs in such a way that they are unusable.

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The risks included bleeding into an empty chest cavity and whether her blood pressure and oxygen levels could be supported afterwards. "In fact, she technically was on an artificial lung, an artificial heart and an artificial kidney for six days", said Dr. Shaf Keshavjee, director of Toronto Lung Transplant Program.

When the ventilator was insufficient to offer the necessary support, she was placed on a life support machine - but her situation continued to worsen.

As the damaged lungs were removed, Melissa was put on a sophisticated life support machine, along with other support devices such as a portable artificial lung.

"Things were so bad for so long, we needed something to go right", Chris said, "and this new procedure was the first piece of good news in a long time". The lead surgeon stated: "That gave us the courage to say, if we're ever going to save this woman, we're going to do it now". I wouldn't be reading stories to my daughter. "We needed this chance", he said.

This added oxygen to her blood, removed carbon dioxide and helped maintain continuous blood flow.

They waited for almost a week - either for lungs to become available or for complications to arise. "But I'm just so grateful, so happy to be home".

Lying in a hospital bed, she had become weak and couldn't even lift her head, stand or even sit up; but a month after the operation she was able to walk without the support of a walker or cane. Most of Olivia's memories were of her mother getting weaker and weaker, or "sleeping", as the child calls her mom's weeks in a coma.

  • Ismael Montgomery