My dad, Sam Wydner, had a life-extending lung transplant at Columbia University Medical Center/NY Presbyterian on February 20, 2015. I remember the date well, because when I saw him on February 19, he was struggling for breath even with 50 liters of oxygen. I really thought it would be the last time I saw him alive. He had been admitted to the hospital on January 5, and hopes were raised several times when we thought we had a donor. Unfortunately, there were problems each time with the donated lungs and they could not be transplanted. Hopes were raised, and would fall again. We learned that one in five patients die waiting for lungs, and we prayed that dad wouldn’t be one of them.
Finally, on February 20 Dr. Sonett performed the transplant, with a pair of viable lungs. The result was nothing short of miraculous. For a man with pulmonary hypertension and COPD, his life had become defined by his lung disease. Now, he had a new lease on life. The physical therapists were amazed by his progress, and the speed with which he bounced back. He was cleared by PT to leave earlier than most, and continued to be active at home. He frequently walked the nearby nature conservancy with me, went to his grandchildren’s recitals and middle school graduations, and squeezed every drop out of his new-found life. Sadly, he passed away on July 15, 2016 from pneumonia and infection, and it was also discovered that he had liver cancer. Did his suppressed immune system contribute or accelerate the cancer? We’ll never know for sure, but that is probably what happened. But we are so grateful for the additional 18 months that we had with him. And we are grateful for the research being done at CUMC to address the shortage of donor lungs, and the issues of infection and suppressed immune system, so that patients everywhere can experience the gift that we received.