Miracle Medicine: This woman lived without her lungs for 6 days!

In what has been hailed as a medical first, 32-year-old Melissa Benoit had both of her lungs taken out, and lived without them for nearly a week until she could get a transplant. "In fact, she technically was on an artificial lung, an artificial heart, and an artificial kidney for six days". When the infection started to move throughout her body, doctors said taking out her lungs and putting her on a breathing treatment was the only way to save her life.

They faced many unknowns, including the risk of bleeding into an empty chest cavity, whether or not a patient's blood pressure and oxygen levels could be supported after the operation, and if she would even survive the procedure.

For the first time ever surgeons were successful in completely removing a woman's lungs and having her lungless body on life support for six days before the transplant of new lungs.

Benoit said she wasn't in pain and couldn't see any of her scars. "We didn't know if we'd get [them] in one day or one month", said Keshavjee. "Melissa gave us the courage to go ahead", he said.

The operation took place in April 2016, but was not publicised until nine months later. Benoit, a nurse, thought her family was lying when they told her she had lived without lungs. As a result, Benoit's internal organs were damaged, especially her lungs.

"This was bold and very challenging, but Melissa was dying before our eyes", Dr. Keshavjee said in a news release on the hospital's website.

"It was a hard discussion because when we're talking about something that had never, to our knowledge, been done before, there were a lot of unknowns", Dr Niall Ferguson of the University Health Network, the health authority responsible for the Toronto General Hospital, stated in a news conference on Wednesday. Within minutes, her blood pressure returned to normal. If everything went right, the devices could keep her alive until donor lungs became available.

Melissa Benoit left hugs her daughter Olivia. 'You really come from the brink of death to back living at home. But I’m just so grateful so happy to be home,' she said

Melissa remains on kidney dialysis, but is now able to play with her young daughter "for whole days" without getting exhausted and his not needed a walker or cane for a month.

Life support wasn't working.

Post-surgery, she was induced into a coma, and hooked up to machines to help oxygenate and pump blood through her body, as well as to remove toxins. "We needed this chance". There, doctors realized she had only hours to live.

This added oxygen to her blood, removed carbon dioxide and helped maintain continuous blood flow. Dr. Keshavjee is Surgeon-in-Chief, Sprott Department of Surgery at UHN, and one of three thoracic surgeons who operated together on Melissa.

Several months after her ordeal, the woman says she never felt better.

Today, Benoit is relishing being at home with her young daughter, and just being able to do "day-to-day" things.

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  • Marjorie Miles