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Portable artificial lung keeps patient alive for transplant

Posted Dec 30 2009 8:17am

A 50-year-old former marathon runner with end-stage cystic fibrosis became one of the few in the world and the first in New York to use a new portable artificial lung to extend her life while waiting for a lung transplantation.

A standard respiratory ventilator was no longer effective at keeping the patient alive because her lungs had become too diseased.

Administered by the transplant team at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center, the device provided oxygen to the patient without her needing to rely on a ventilator. Bypassing her lungs, it oxygenated her blood directly through a two-way connection to a vein in her chest.

“The portable ECMO device, which works like an artificial lung, saved this woman’s life,” says Dr. Matthew Bacchetta, the thoracic surgeon at NewYork-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Center who led the transplant surgery. He is also assistant professor of surgery at Columbia University College of Physicians and Surgeons. “By connecting her to this machine, she was able to get the oxygen her body desperately needed. At the same time, she was able to eat, walk around, even talk on her own. As a result, she regained the strength needed to undergo a major surgery. This was a huge factor in making her transplant surgery a success.”

The artificial lung is a state-of-the-art technology first developed in the early 1980s for neonatal care. Known as ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation), the machine oxygenates blood by pumping blood in and out of multiple tubes connected to a patient. A “membrane oxygenator” imitates the gas exchange process of the lungs, removing carbon dioxide and adding oxygen.

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