In a world’s first, a Canadian woman had her lungs removed by doctors at Toronto General Hospital and was kept alive for six days while waiting for donor organs, Canadian media reported Wednesday.
At a press conference in Wednesday, the head of the hospital’s lung transplant program said Melissa Benoit, 32, had only hours to live when her family gave the go-ahead for the procedure, the Canadian Press (CP) wire service reported.
The wife and mother of a three-year-old girl was kept alive with technology that circulated and put oxygen into her blood, and an artificial heart, kidneys and lungs, said Dr. Shaf Keshavjee.
Benoit’s lungs were the source of an antibiotic-resistant infection that would have caused the failure of organs and septic shock, doctors said.
Dr. Niall Ferguson, head of critical care at the University Health Network that includes Toronto General, said doctors were heading into uncharted territory with the procedure.
“It was a difficult decision because when we’re talking about something that had never to our knowledge been done before, there were a lot of unknowns,” Ferguson said.
Benoit, who was born with cystic fibrosis and had battled breathing problems for years, was taken to Toronto General’s intensive care unit in early April 2016, gasping for air, the result of a recent bout of influenza, doctors said.
She faced death without the radical procedure.
“This was bold and very challenging, but Melissa was dying before our eyes,” Dr. Keshavjee said in a news release on the hospital’s website. “We had to make a decision because Melissa was going to die that night.”
Keshavjee was one of three doctors who performed the operation.
Benoit’s husband, Chris, gave the go ahead for the procedure.
“Things were so bad for so long, we needed something to go right,” Chris said, “and this new procedure was the first piece of good news in a long time. We needed this chance.”
Melissa did not know the procedure was being done, but said at the press conference that her husband made the right decision.
“[Chris] held my life in his hands,” she said, CP reported. “He had to trust in himself, knowing me, relying on past conversations, and he chose exactly what I would have told him to.”