Surgeons at the Mater hospital in Dublin have performed an innovative new lung transplant procedure on a woman with cystic fibrosis, making it the first such operation of its kind in the country.
Leigh Bagnall (20), from Drogheda, Co Louth, received donor lungs which were reconditioned outside her body before transplant to improve the quality of the organs.
Known as ex vivo lung perfusion transplantation (EVLP), the procedure makes donor lungs previously classed as unsuitable safe for transplant. It was performed by consultant thoracic and lung transplant surgeon Karen Redmond and her team.
The Mater hospital said the conversion rate for lungs that are successfully reconditioned and transplanted using the procedure is at least 50 per cent.
This means that for every two organ donors currently deemed unsuitable for lung transplant, the processes can restore the lungs of one, dramatically increasing the size of the current donor pool.
Ms Bagnall and her surgeon spoke to media at the Mater hospital on Wednesday morning.
Ms Redmond said the surgery marked “a hugely significant milestone in the history of the transplant programme in the Mater hospital and for the Ireland East Hospital Group”.
She said the practice of ex vivo lung perfusion to recondition lungs was still in its infancy, but had the potential to significantly increase the availability of donor lungs for transplantation in Ireland.
“With appropriate resources, the lung transplant group has the potential to perform more and more lifesaving procedures year on year, with record high numbers for 2015 already achieved.”
The EVLP process takes about four hours to complete using a ventilator.
Throughout the process, the lungs are maintained at normal body temperature and perfused with a bloodless fluid known as Steen solution, which contains high levels of Albumin, Dextran and an electrolyte composition.
There are approximately 30 people currently on the waiting list for lung transplants.
Ms Redmond said there were a a “huge shortage” of viable lungs available in comparison to the number of patients awaiting transplants, however.
“If you couple this with the fact Ireland has among some of the most severe phenotypes of cystic fibrosis and the highest incidence (per head of population) of CF in the world, this first successful transplantation using EVLP is a huge step forward for both the treatment of CF and the potential of the lung transplant programme in Ireland.”
Ms Bagnall thanked all the surgeons and staff at the Mater hospital and her donor and their family.
“I am forever indebted to them. Since undergoing the surgery I have felt absolutely fantastic; it really has given me a new life. It was only two years ago I was forced to drop out my college course and was on full time oxygen. Fast forward post-surgery and I am now off oxygen and fully intend on returning to college in September to study make up artistry.”
She was eight and a half weeks on the waiting list for her transplant.
Ms Bagnall said the EVLP procedure gave her hope for the future of CF treatment in Ireland.
The heart transplant programme in the Mater began in September 1985 and the hospital is the national heart and lung transplant centre.
In May 2005 the first lung transplant procedure undertaken in the state took place in the Mater, closely followed by the first double lung transplant in 2006.
This article first appeared in the Irish Times on March 16th, 2016