Nebraska Medicine Transplant Team Performs First Lung Transplant
First Time the Operation Has Been Done Since Launching the Program in Late 2015
Three weeks after receiving the first lung transplant at Nebraska Medicine, 58-year-old Phil Sauvageau of Omaha is heading home. The married father of four received a double lung transplant on January 24 after being placed on Nebraska Medicine’s lung transplant waiting list January 21.
“We are extremely proud of this accomplishment,” says Heather Strah, MD, medical director of lung transplantation at Nebraska Medicine. “Before we listed Phil, we made sure everything was in place and that he was ready for this life-changing surgery. So many providers came together to make sure Phil received excellent care. He couldn’t have been in better hands.”
Since 2012, Sauvageau has struggled with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a disease that causes scarring of the lungs, often resulting in respiratory failure. Because there is no cure for IPF, Sauvageau’s only option for survival was a lung transplant.
“Before his surgery, Phil was short of breath just sitting down,” explains Dr. Strah. “He needed oxygen all the time. While walking on a treadmill during pulmonary rehabilitation, Phil was using 15 liters of oxygen (basically as much as you can get outside of the ICU) so that he could keep up his strength. When the time came for his transplant, everything fell into place perfectly.”
“When Dr. Strah put my name on the list that Thursday (January 21), I told her, ‘see you Saturday,’” says Sauvageau. “You can imagine how shocked my wife and I were to actually get a phone call that Saturday night (January 23), saying they had found a match.”
Sauvageau’s double lung transplant started at 4:43 a.m. on Sunday, January 24 and lasted approximately six hours. Surgical director of lung transplantation, Aleem Siddique, MD, performed the operation, assisted by transplant surgeon Michael Moulton, MD. A team of anesthesiologists, surgeons, physician assistants, perfusionists, pharmacists, nursing personnel and other staff members were also in the room.
“The surgery went very smoothly with no significant complications,” says Dr. Siddique. “It was a very exciting time for Phil, the program and me personally. Of course, there is still much to be achieved.”
One day after surgery, Sauvageau was already talking and even walked a few steps down the hallway. He spent several days recovering in the Cardiovascular Intensive Care Unit (CVICU) at Nebraska Medicine – Nebraska Medical Center, before being moved to the Cardiac Progressive Care Unit where he continued to walk several times a day. On Sunday, February 14, Sauvageau reached an important goal – he walked one mile with no oxygen. Sauvageau will be discharged from the hospital on Monday, February 15.
“I feel pretty darn good. I’ve been sick for so long, it’s nice being able to move around again,” explains Sauvageau. “This was the greatest gift God has ever given me. Whether I get 20 weeks or 20 years with my new lungs, I’m so thankful for my donor. They’ve given me the chance to have a better relationship with God and to be here for my family.”
“Nationally, it’s estimated that 18 people die every day while waiting for organ transplants,” says Dr. Siddique. “A single donor may save up to eight lives. For the donor or their family, it’s an opportunity that may be deeply rewarding. Phil’s story is living proof.”
Sauvageau will now receive long-term follow-up care at Nebraska Medicine, which includes testing and pulmonary rehabilitation every day for the next several months. After that, he’ll receive checkups every few months for the rest of his life. Patients who survive their first year after transplant are typically expected to live seven or eight years, but Dr. Strah has seen many patients who were transplanted 10, 15, 20 years ago who are still enjoying relatively good health.
“Phil has done great so far,” says Dr. Strah. “But, the most remarkable thing about Phil’s recovery is his family. They are here continuously to support, encourage and push him. They are the key to his success. He’s very blessed to have them.”
Sauvageau says he’s excited to get home, go for walks with his wife, spend time with his eight grandchildren and help his youngest daughter prepare for her April wedding.
“Before my transplant, I really thought I wouldn’t be here for her big day,” says Sauvageau. “But, thanks to the outstanding team at Nebraska Medicine, I’ll be able to walk my daughter down the aisle. Drs. Strah, Siddique and Moulton have brought an incredible sense of confidence and calmness to this experience. I couldn’t have asked for better care from a better hospital. Nebraska Medicine is number one in my book.”
Nebraska Medicine is home to one of the most reputable and well-known organ transplant programs in the country. In the decades since the first transplant in 1970, its nationally and internationally renowned specialists have performed thousands of heart, liver, kidney, pancreas and intestinal transplants. Nebraska Medicine is one of a few institutions nationwide to offer all solid organ transplants under one roof.
Nebraska Medicine’s Lung Transplant Program offers single lung, double lung and heart-lung transplants. Clinicians hope to evaluate 20-30 patients and transplant 10 patients in the first year. Along with extraordinary patient care, the program will provide lung education, research and innovation. Clinicians will also work to promote the importance of organ donation.
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