Woman survives six days without lungs

Melissa Benoit was initially admitted to hospital in Toronto suffering heavy breathing

Woman survives six days without lungs

Melissa Benoit, with her parents (L to R) Sylvio and Sue Dupuis looking on. Image: UHN

Doctors in Canada say they saved a woman's life by removing her lungs for six days.

The radical procedure was undertaken on patient Melissa Benoit in April 2016 at at Toronto General Hospital, with the findings of the medical team having now been published.

Melissa - who suffers from cystic fibrosis - was admitted to hospital with heavy breathing, having already been prescribed antibiotics for several years as a result of regular chest infections.

A bout of flu before her admission had led to coughing fits that fractured her ribs.

She was initially placed on a ventilator, but doctors say Melissa's inflamed lungs began to fill with blood and mucus.

When the ventilator was insufficient to offer the necessary support, she was placed on a life support machine - but her situation continued to worsen.

Bacteria in the lungs - which later spread to the rest of her body - had grown resistant to antibiotics. She then entered septic shock and her organs began to shut down. Doctors determined she needed a lung transplant to survive.

Dr Shaf Keshavjee - the surgeon-in-chief with the University Health Network - explained: "Melissa was dying before our eyes. We had to make a decision because Melissa was going to die that night."

"No regrets whatsoever"

Ultimately, the doctors and Melissa's family chose to carry out the 'bold' procedure to remove her lungs, as her condition at the time meant she would not have been healthy enough to receive transplant organs even when they became available. 

It is believed to be the first time such a procedure has been attempted, with doctors admitting it offered Melissa a 'slim' chance of survival. 

The procedure was carried out by an operating team of 13 people - including three thoracic surgeons - over nine hours.

As the damaged lungs were removed, Melissa was put on a sophisticated life support machine, along with other support devices such as a portable artificial lung.

According to the doctors involved, her condition had improved dramatically only hours after the procedure - and ultimately donor lungs were found in late December.

Melissa's new lungs are said to have "functioned beautifully and inflated easily".

Speaking about the procedure, Melissa said having the transplant "was the biggest risk I think we'll ever take in our lives".

She said: "[My family] took over and carried the weight when I couldn't. There are no regrets whatsoever."

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