New team performs lung transplant at University of Chicago

April 25, 2006

The lung transplant team, recruited to the University of Chicago in December, completed their first transplant in the new setting on Saturday, April 22. Allen Leonard, an officer with the Chicago Police Department, received two new lungs in an operation that began at about 10 p.m. on Friday evening and lasted until about 6:30 a.m. on Saturday.

Leonard, 44, suffered from scleroderma-associated pulmonary fibrosis. Until last fall he worked as a bicycle policeman on Chicago's lakefront. About six months ago, however, his disease began to progress rapidly and he had to shift to a desk job. His health continued to worsen and one month ago he was placed on the waiting list for a lung transplant.

He was sitting at his desk at work when the call came on Friday. He came straight to the hospital while the organ recovery team flew out of state to retrieve the lungs for transplant. The overnight operation went smoothly and he was in an intensive care unit by 7 a.m.

He recovered quickly and had his breathing tube removed by noon the day of his surgery. By Monday morning he was sitting in a chair, happy to have the waiting and the operation behind him.

Leonard is "progressing normally," said Wickii Vigneswaran, surgical director of the transplant team. "He came through the operation without problems and he has recovered nicely so far."

"He is not out of the woods yet," cautioned pulmonologist Sangeeta Bhorade, medical director of the lung transplant team. "These are complex cases and there is a lot that can happen. But he is off to a good start. We hope to have him out of the hospital within one week."

The team of five lung transplant physicians--including Edward Garrity, now vice chair of clinical operations in the department of medicine at the University of Chicago, Bhorade and Vigneswaran--moved to the University of Chicago Hospitals last December. Eight additional members of the team, including an anesthesiologist, an infectious disease specialist and six nurses, transferred with them.

The program was approved for lung and for heart/lung transplants by the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) in February and began placing patients on the waiting list.

The team was attracted by the University's nationally recognized research and clinical programs in pulmonary biology and lung disease. This combination of a large lung transplant program with clinical, translational and basic research efforts in pulmonary medicine provides "an unrivalled opportunity to focus upon the causes and treatment of pulmonary disease," said Garrity.

The lung team will join nationally recognized teams in heart, liver, kidney, pancreas, multi-organ and islet-cell transplantation already in place at the University, making it one of the region's most comprehensive transplant programs.

Organ transplantation began at the University of Chicago in 1904 when Dr. Alexis Carrel, a pioneer in cardiac surgery, developed the surgical techniques and performed the first organ transplant. Carrel won the Nobel Prize for Medicine and Physiology for this work in 1912.

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