June 23, 2017

Woman lives for 6 days without lungs

28 January 2017, 12:39 | Elizabeth Houston

The doctors were left with the only option of removing her lungs and keeping her on a ventilator.

"What helped us is the fact that we knew it was a matter of hours before she would die", said Dr Shaf Keshavjee, one of three surgeons who operated on her. "Melissa gave us the courage to go ahead".

Normally it's used to assist with lung function.

"It took me a while to realise what happened". It seems very surreal.

In a press conference Wednesday morning, Benoit thanked the doctors saying they pulled her back from the dead. When Melissa Benoit, 33, got the flu last April, her lungs were quickly overwhelmed, because of damage from cystic fibrosis. For the past three years, she had been prescribed antibiotics to fight off increasingly frequent chest infections. The result was similar to the experience of drowning.

Dr Niall Ferguson, head of critical care medicine at the University Health Network and Mount Sinai, said the influenza "tipped her over the edge into respiratory failure". "She got into a spiral from which her lungs were not going to recover".

When she was being discharged after six months in the hospital, Benoit said a nurse suggested her family go on vacation.

When Benoit first learned of the surgery that had saved her life, she didn't believe it.

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Bacteria in the lungs - which later spread to the rest of her body - had grown resistant to antibiotics. Doctors soon realised that Benoit, who had been born with cystic fibrosis, had just hours to live, leading them to consider the unprecedented approach.

Benoit said her family made the same decision she would have if she'd been well enough to consent.

The doctors then considered removing both lungs to eradicate the source of the infection.

As this is the first time such a procedure has been carried out, the medical team involved have recognized that they are in uncharted territory. Doctors say that because of the two months she spent in the hospital, all of her muscles were atrophied and the only one she could move was her tongue. They had become so engorged with mucous and pus that they were as hard as footballs, Dr. Keshavjee recalled.

Hours later, her condition began to dramatically improve. One by one, her organs began shutting down.

Quietly, though, her team of doctors had been mulling a procedure that could extend her life but had never been tried. Two machines were used to keep the Canadian nurse alive - a Novalung, an advanced piece of equipment whose goal is to infuse the blood with oxygen and to remove the carbon dioxide, and another apparatus called the Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation Machine (EMCO) whose duty was to help the woman's heart pump blood to vital areas of the body.

Several months after her ordeal, the woman says she never felt better. She is still on kidney dialysis. "But I'm just so grateful, so happy to be home", she said further. "I want to hear Olivia's voice, play with her and read her stories".

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