A woman survived for six days without her lungs that got severely infected. Thoracic surgeons at Toronto General Hospital, University Health Network placed the woman in advanced life support while she recovers.

The woman, Melissa Benoit, who was 32 at the time, was admitted to Toronto General Hospital’s (TGH) Medical Surgical Intensive Care Unit (MSICU) in April 2016 because her lungs were drowning in blood, pus, and mucus brought by influenza.  Doctors decided that Melissa, who has been suffering from cystic fibrosis for years, could only be saved by a lung transplant.

Initially, physicians placed her on Extra-Corporeal Lung Support (ECLS), which was supposed to support her lungs and heart. However, Melissa’s condition got worse and the bacteria in her lungs became resistant to most antibiotics, spreading in her body.

She suffered septic shock. Dr. Marcelo Cypel, a thoracic surgeon, realized that removing her infected lungs is the only key to save her life. Cypel talked to his colleagues and Melissa’s family about this operation, a procedure that has never been done before.

The doctors removed her lungs, which caused the patient’s condition to improve.  Her other affected organs also got better. A life support machine connected to her heart kept Melissa alive. The doctors also connected the Novalung device, a portable artificial lung, to her blood vessels to replace her lungs.

The technology allowed Melissa’s body to function as if she still has her lungs. Another device called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), also allowed the circulation of oxygen-rich blood throughout Melissa’s body.

“The transplant procedure was not complicated because half of it was done already,” said Cypel, “Her new lungs functioned beautifully and inflated easily. Perfect.” Although Melissa is still on kidney dialysis, her condition is constantly improving, the researchers add. She now plays with her daughter and able to walk without any help.