Dr. Alpert Assists in First Successful Lung Transplant

I was involved with one of the first successful lung transplants in North America.  I had a patient with Paraquat poisoning.  He was a landscape gardener and he was exposed to Paraquat which is no longer available, but its an herbicide.  He had over exposure to it, it went into his blood stream and then went into his lungs and he basically was dying of Paraquat poisoning and was on a respirator.

No one had ever really survived Paraquat poisoning with my patient’s degree of lung damage.  However, it was just at the point in time of the introduction of cyclosporine,  an immunosuppressant drug now widely used in post-allogeneic organ transplant to reduce the activity of the patient’s immune system.

There was a new lung transplant program at Toronto General Hospital and I was able to get in touch with Dr. Joel Cooper who was head of the program. Dr. Cooper accepted my patient who subsequently underwent two lung transplants.  We were able to successfully transplant him.

My patient had complications unrelated to the actual transplant itself.  They felt that the operation itself was successful and we then were able to continue the lung transplant program, so I was able to help coordinate those initial surgeries and the initial transplants that my patient underwent.

Although this was considered the first successful lung transplant, it was not the first lung transplant surgery. There were several attempts at lung transplants, but were all unsuccessful because of rejection.

Before immunosuppressant drug cyclosporine was available, patients often died of complications from the steroids, the inability to fight off infection, improper healing, and poor blood supply to the lungs.  Dr. Joel Cooper had been working with a lab for a couple of years to develop his technique of getting adequate blood supply to the bronchus of the lung, He had just received permission to restart human lung transplantation when I had contacted him to see if he would take my patient.  He did accept my patient and so by using the techniques that he had developed and through the advent of cyclosporine he was able to perform the first successful lung transplant without having the problems with rejection that had previously caused so much failure.

A few months after my patient’s lung transplant, Dr. Cooper transplanted a 52 year-old man and that patient went on to live 5 years which was the longest living lung transplant patient of the time.  Of course now lung transplants are a regularly accepted technique and the surgeries are being preformed all over the world as an accepted means of helping patients who need them.

Click here to read more about Mr. Franzen’s struggle.

Another article about Mr. Franzen situation and Dr. Alpert’s remarkable procedure.