New technology keeps organs alive outside the body before transplant

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In an emergency, every second is important, especially when it comes to organ transplants. Now, a new device is able to keep those organs operating outside of the body, essentially giving doctors more time.

“I have forgotten what it is like to take a good breath of air and I’m really looking forward to it,” said Gary Hopkins, who is waiting on a transplant.

Hopkins daydreams about getting the call.

“I just keep looking at my phone,” said Hopkins. “I go to bed and it’s sitting right there and I keep looking at it thinking, ‘Come on, ring.'”

Hopkins has been waiting for a transplant for two years. He knows the gift of new lungs for him comes with a steep price paid by someone else, though.

“Somebody gave their life up and I have a hard time with that,” said Hopkins.

Now, there’s a way to help transplant patients get better lungs. It is called the XVIVO.

“To take lungs that we thought may not have been suitable for transplant, put them on this machine, assess them, manipulate them, to the point where they can potentially be transplanted,” said Dr. Thomas Wozniak.

Before the XVIVO, organs went from ‘on ice’ into the patient. Now, medical teams can put the organs in a dome and give the organ a ‘test drive’ to see if it is good enough to go inside a patient. That’s exactly what they did for a lung intended for Hopkins.

“Conversely, more importantly we might say, ‘You know, we shouldn’t these lungs,’ because you never want to put an organ in somebody that is not going to have a good outcome,” said Wozniak.

IU Health is the only hospital in the state that has the XVIVO. It is one of seven in the country.

“This is basically the person,” said Wozniak. “You have got to get blood to and from the lung with these machines and with these tubes. Then you have a ventilator tube that goes in here to blow the air in and out.  So it’s actually breathing.”

The air at Gary’s house is always flowing. A tube is attached wherever he goes. The 65-year-old was moments from a transplant, but it wasn’t meant to be.

“I was a little disappointed, but if they don’t feel good about it, this isn’t their first rodeo, then I don’t want it,” said Hopkins.

Hopkins knows he could die waiting for his new lungs. Instead, the celebration of surgery is all he can think about.

“It’s like winning the lottery, but it’s better,” said Hopkins.  “With the lottery you just win money, I am winning life.”

Right now,  only 15 percent of donated lungs can be used. The medical team said being able to hook the lung up and pump air and a blood-like-liquid through it will help get that percentage up. The bottom line is the more lungs that get transplanted the more lives that are saved.

To learn how to become an organ donor go to http://www.donatelifeindiana.org/.