Making more lungs available for transplant in Vancouver

New program aims to bring relief to hospital waiting lists

A new program at Vancouver General Hospital aims to increase the number of lungs available for transplant in British Columbia.

Vancouver Coastal Health and BC Transplant unveiled the new program, known as Ex Vivo Lung Perfusion, Thursday. It uses a machine that not only allows lungs to “live” outside the body for up to 12 hours after they’ve been extracted but also permits the repair and reconditioning of the lungs ahead of the transplant.

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The Ex Vivo system, which was developed in 2001, continually pumps a bloodless mix of oxygen, nutrients and proteins into injured donor lungs, mimicking the healthy human body. A ventilator also inflates the lungs and maintains normal respiration, while doctors examine the tissue with fiber optic cameras and treat any infection, blood clots, or fluid accumulation.

While BC Transplant says it has been making significant strides in encouraging B.C. residents to register as organ donors, the organs have to be rushed to recipients and are often found to be in non-ideal condition.  

“People who need lung transplants typically have no other options, so being able to utilize more of these priceless organs will save lives,” Dr. John Yee, a lung transplant surgeon with Vancouver Coastal Health and director of the BC Lung Transplant Program, said in a press release.

One of these people is Cheryl Deyalsingh, who is currently one of 40 B.C. residents waiting for a lung transplant.

She has been waiting for over a year and is hoping suitable organs will be found soon.

“It’s my only hope,” Deyalsingh said. “A transplant will give me a new lease on life.”

The Ex Vivo system is located at Vancouver General Hospital, which is the only hospital in the province that performs adult lung transplants. The BC Lung Transplant Program is one of only four programs of its kind in Canada.

Through the use of Ex Vivo, the number of lung transplants is expected to increase by 20 per cent, rising to a predicted 60 double lung operations for 2019. BC Transplant says it believes that the system, in conjunction with Vancouver Coastal Health’s provincial lung program, will reduce deaths on the wait list and improve patient outcomes.

This is good news for people like Deyalsingh, who can now — or will be able to soon — breathe a sigh of relief at the prospect of finding a suitable pair of lungs.

“I’m looking forward to caring for my grandson and being a whole person again.”

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