Lung & Liver Transplant Gives Robert New Life


CLEVELAND, Ohio. (Ivanhoe Newswire) — More than 33,000 organ transplants were performed in 2016. The lungs and the liver are two organs that are commonly transplanted, but they are rarely transplanted at the same time. This man needed both organs … and got them!

A year ago, Robert Fealy was on oxygen 24/7 and could barely breathe.

“It got to where I’d walk halfway to the bathroom, lean on the counter and stop and catch my breath.” Fealy told Ivanhoe.

Robert was born with a genetic disorder known as A1AD, which damaged his lungs.

Jeanne Fealy, Robert’s wife said, “I saw him deteriorate so quickly.”

He needed a lung transplant, but Robert’s liver was also in bad shape.

Kenneth McCurry, MD, Surgical Director of Lung and Heart-Lung Transplantation and Staff Cardiac Surgeon at Cleveland Clinic explained, “We felt that if we did his lung, his lung transplant alone, that there was a very high chance that the liver might fail.” (Read Full Interview)

So, doctors at the Cleveland Clinic decided Robert would need a lung and liver transplant. The surgery is tricky … both organs must come from the same donor, and the liver has to sit on ice while doctors transplant the lungs. Only a handful of these transplants are performed every year.

“It’s a very complex operation to do both, very difficult,” Dr. McCurry said.

But after 12 hours of surgery, Robert had two new lungs and a new liver.

Robert continued, “They took me in, and it was done. I woke up a day later, and I felt great.”

He was even singing five days after his transplant. His wife says he never gave up.

Jeanne said, “One thing I’d like to tell you, I’d like to introduce you to my Superman!”

But Robert says the real hero is his donor.

“I’d like to say I’m thankful to my donor every day!” Robert stated.

And thankful he received a gift that gave him a second chance at life.

Doctor McCurry says many insurance companies won’t cover a lung and liver transplant because it’s considered a risky procedure. He says patients have actually died because their insurance providers wouldn’t cover the surgery.

Contributors to this news report include: Julie Marks, Producer; Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Gabriella Battistiol, Assistant Producer; Roque Correa, Editor.

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REPORT:       MB #4359

BACKGROUND OF A1AD: Alpha-1 Antitrypsin Deficiency is an inherited, genetic condition that involves a deficiency of alpha-1 antitrypsin or AAT in the blood steam. This is an enzyme that is produced in the liver to help protect the tissues of the body during infection. The low level of AAT in the blood occurs because the AAT is abnormal and cannot be released from the liver at a normal rate, which leads to a buildup of abnormal AAT in the liver that can cause liver disease. Alpha-1 Proteinase Inhibitor is made in the liver, and one of its jobs is to protect delicate lung tissue against substances released by white blood cells. Chest infections are normally controlled by the liver releasing more AAT, which neutralizes the enzyme before it can cause too much damage in the lung; however with a decrease of AAT in the blood this can also lead to lung disease. To have A1AD means a person inherited the faulty gene from both parents. This is a highly deficient state where blood levels show that less than 20 percent of normal levels are circulating.


SYMPTOMS/TREATMENT: Statistically, A1AD affects about 1 in 1500-3500 individuals with European ancestry; it is uncommon in Asians. Signs and symptoms most people will experience with this disorder are things such as chronic cough, Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease or COPD, emphysema, liver failure, hepatitis, jaundice, cirrhosis, and/or hepatitis. Doctors can confirm the diagnosis with blood tests or a liver biopsy. How it is treated depends on the patient’s signs and symptoms. Treatment may include bronchodilators and inhaled steroids, intravenous use of purified human ATT to raise levels of ATT in the blood and lungs. Management of AATD involves pulmonary function tests, liver function monitoring, yearly vaccinations against influenza, and it is recommended the patient be vaccinated against hepatitis A and B as well as pneumococcus.


LUNG-LIVER TRANSPLANT: The first dual lung and liver transplant was performed in 1994, and as of April 2016 only 74 combined lung and liver transplants have been completed in the U.S., based on available data from the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), the nonprofit that manages the nation’s transplants. It is rare for someone to need both of these organs and be healthy enough to withstand surgery. The surgery involves a large team, and can take 12 hours. There is a team to remove and replace the lungs, and a second to remove and replace the liver. Timing is critical for this surgery, as in all transplants, because the amount of time between organ removal and organ transplants, as well as the amount of time the new organs are outside the body, must be minimized.



Andrea Pacetti

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Doctor Q and A

Read the entire Doctor Q&A for Kenneth McCurry, MD

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