Steve Adubato: Transplanting Lungs, Saving Lives

In August, Dr. Lawrence McBride, left, performed the first two lung transplants at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, which this year became the only New Jersey hospital designated for the procedure by the Department of Health and Senior Services.

Dr. Lawrence McBride performed the first two lung transplants at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, which this year became the only New Jersey Hospital designated for the procedure by the Health and Senior Services.
Photo courtesy of Newark Beth Israel Medical Center

We spoke with McBride about the program, which he heads as surgical director along with Dr. Sean M. Studer, medical director of lung transplants and pulmonary hypertension. For information about lung transplants and organ donation, call 800-541-0075, or visit SBHCS.com or sharenj.org.

Tell me about the initial two lung transplants you performed with your team at Newark Beth Israel.

Both individuals had end-stage lung disease. Neither had lungs that were working or functioning sufficiently to keep them alive. Both were severely debilitated and had a hard time getting up and walking. They had to bring an oxygen tank with them, and one got to the point where he could no longer function at home and had to be hospitalized. Both of them can now breathe, are now off oxygen, and are home.
 
What is their prognosis?

Their outlook is good. Far better than where it was prior to the transplant. The one-year survival in general for lung transplants is 80 to 85 percent, and the five-year survival is between 60 and 70 percent. We are still not where we would like to be. Not as good as a survival [rate] with heart transplants, but it is continually improving as we become more sophisticated with the drugs we use to control immuno-suppression and stuff like that.
 
Why is having a lung transplant program in New Jersey so important?

Lung transplantation has been performed for the past 15 to 20 years. Until now, New Jersey residents had to leave the state to get a transplant. All the donor lungs in New Jersey prior to this program were harvested and transported outside the state. Last year, 52 lungs were exported outside of New Jersey to be transplanted. New Jersey, even though it is the tenth most populated state in the country, did not have a lung transplant program.

Who are the best candidates for lung transplants?

People suffering with diseases such as emphysema and pulmonary fibrosis. Smoking is the biggest cause of emphysema in the world. About 40 percent of all lung transplants are related to it. About 30 percent are related to pulmonary fibrosis. The lungs become thick and scarred rather than being soft; they turn into almost a liver consistency. There is also cystic fibrosis, which is caused by an enzyme deficiency. This typically affects people in their late teens and early 20s. That group makes up about 15 to 20 percent of the lung transplants.
 
What is the best thing about your work?

It is amazing to see these patients, who have been through so much, bounce back and become strong after a transplant. It is rewarding to watch these people embrace life and take off.
 
How many people are waiting for a lung transplant?

There are about 4,000 people in the U.S. on the lung transplant list. We transplant about 1,500 a year. There are far more people waiting…because of a lack of donors.
 
How do we increase the number of people who become organ donors?

It’s mainly a question of educating the public. In our country, unless your family is aware of your desires, even if you have an organ donor card or the box checked on your driver’s license, once you have passed away your family must support your decision. Make sure your family knows that you want your organs donated.

Right now, only 60 to 70 percent of the families who are asked to donate their family members’ organs elect to do so. Therefore, we need to make people aware of how much good they can accomplish. From just one donor, we can do two lung transplants, a heart transplant, a liver transplant, and two kidney transplants in individual people.

Steve Adubato, PhD., is an Emmy Award-winning anchor for Thirteen/WNET and a media analyst and columnist for MSNBC.com, who also appears regularly on CBS 2.  He is the author of the book Make the Connection, as well as his newest book What Were They Thinking?, which examines highly publicized and often controversial public relations and media mishaps.  For more information, log on to www.stand-deliver.com.

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