Lung transplant gives new life
Simply blowing out the candles on his birthday cake would have been an arduous task for Robert Valente, who just celebrated his 44th birthday, but that’s no longer a problem anymore.
“I now have two brand-new lungs and feeling better every day!” exclaimed the Chicago mortgage banker.
Just four months ago, Valente was tethered to an oxygen tank and barely able to walk 25-feet before becoming very short of breath.
“I was becoming a recluse at home, because the tank made it just too difficult to maneuver the terrain and bleachers at my kids’ sporting events,” Valente says. “I enjoy being involved in my kids’ lives, but the physical exertion – the walking and lack of breath – it felt like I was suffocating.”
In June, Valente was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis. He spent 39 days on a national donor organ waiting list before becoming the first patient to undergo a bilateral lung transplant at Advocate Christ Medical Center in Oak Lawn, Ill. His surgery took about four hours to complete.
Treating lung disease is becoming increasingly difficult, according to the National Institutes of Health. During 2010, nearly 2,000 lung transplants were performed in the United States. In Illinois, only about 30 to 50 lung transplants are performed annually, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing.
“In Chicago alone, far more patients – as many as 100 or more – require donor lungs than the total number of those actually undergoing lung transplantation in this state. That’s why many of these patients must go out of state for their care,” says Dr. Sinan Simsir, cardiothoracic surgeon and surgical director of the Lung Transplant Program at Christ Medical Center’s Transplant Center. Dr. Simsir led the team performing Valente’s lung surgery.
“Bob suffers from idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, which is a lung-scarring process that occurs for unknown reasons. It usually affects people in their fifth to seventh decades of life,” says Dr. Charles Alex, a specialist in pulmonary and critical care medicine and medical director of the Lung Transplant Program. “Although two new medications have recently come on the market, no therapy other than lung transplantation has proven effective enough for patients with severe forms of the disease.”
Valente has been home for about two months, after spending nearly two months in the hospital following surgery. He is especially looking forward to the upcoming holidays now that he has something to celebrate.
“I’m grateful that my lungs were replaced by a person who cared enough about life and the life of another person to be an organ donor,” Valente sighs. “It saved my life!”
Basic things like walking and talking, which in the past were not possible without strain and discomfort, can be done much more easily now by Valente.
“He no longer requires oxygen therapy and is enjoying a very active lifestyle. He is looking forward to traveling with friends and family,” Dr. Alex says.
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