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YOUR HEALTH: A rare double organ transplant proves to be a life-saver

CLEVELAND, Ohio – A year ago, Robert Fealy was constantly on oxygen and could barely breathe.

"It got to where I'd walk halfway to the bathroom, lean on the counter and stop and catch my breath."

Robert was born with a genetic disorder known as A1AD which damaged his lungs.

"I saw him deteriorate so quickly," his wife Jeanne recalled.

He needed a lung transplant, but Robert's liver was also in bad shape.

"We felt that if we did his lung, his lung transplant alone, that there was a very high chance that the liver might fail," Cleveland Clinic cardiac surgeon Dr. Kenneth McCurry explained.

Doctors at the Cleveland Clinic decided Robert would need a lung and liver transplant.  But the surgery is tricky.

Both organs must come from the same donor and the liver has to sit on ice while doctors transplant the lungs.   Only a handful of these transplants are performed every year.

"It's a very complex operation to do both, very difficult," said Dr. McCurry.

But after 12 hours of surgery, Robert had two new lungs and a new liver.

"They took me in, and it was done," Robert remembered.   "I woke up a day later and I felt great."

He was even singing five days after his transplant.

His wife says he never gave up.

"One thing I'd like to tell you, I'd like to introduce you to my superman!"

But Robert says the real hero is his donor.

"I'd like to say I'm thankful to my donor every day!"

Dr. McCurry says many insurance companies won't cover a lung-liver transplant because it's considered a risky procedure.

He says patients have actually died because their insurance providers wouldn't cover the surgery.

LUNG-LIVER TRANSPLANT: The first dual lung and liver transplant was performed in 1994, and as of April 2016 only 74 combined lung and liver transplants have been completed in the U.S., based on available data from the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS), the nonprofit that manages the nation`s transplants.  It is rare for someone to need both of these organs and be healthy enough to withstand surgery.   The surgery involves a large team, and can take 12 hours.   There is a team to remove and replace the lungs, and a second to remove and replace the liver.   Timing is critical for this surgery, as in all transplants, because the amount of time between organ removal and organ transplants, as well as the amount of time the new organs are outside the body, must be minimized.   (Source: http://www.utsouthwestern.edu/newsroom/articles/year-2016/liver-lung-transplant.html)

If this story has impacted your life or prompted you or someone you know to seek or change treatments, please let us know by contacting Jim Mertens at jim.mertens@wqad.com or Marjorie Bekaert Thomas at mthomas@ivanhoe.com.