Woman Survives 6 Days Without Lungs

Although it had never been carried out before, doctors chose to remove her lungs entirely.

A woman was kept alive for six days without her lungs in what has been called a medical world-first. The 32 year old woman has cystic fibrosis that affects the cells that produce digestive juices, mucus and sweat.

Benoit had been transferred to TGH in early April 2016 from St. Michael's Hospital, where she had been admitted after a bout of influenza had left her gasping for air, with coughing fits so racking, they fractured some of her ribs.

When she woke up, Benoit was unaware of the steps that had been taken to save her life. The most common diseases that can be treated with a lung transplant are chronic bronchitis, emphysema, idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis and pulmonary arterial hypertension, and lastly, cystic fibrosis, which was the condition that led Melissa Benoit to undergo the risky procedure that allowed her to enjoy her daughter's toddler years.

The Canadian nurse remained on life support for six days until the doctors were able to find viable lungs.

Removing her lungs - the source of her infection - was bold, but scientifically sound, they decided. "That gave us the courage to say, if we're ever going to save this woman, we're going to do it now".

It wasn't until Benoit was eventually weaned off the ventilator about a month later that she realized what it meant to have new lungs, which are unaffected by the mutated gene that causes CF.

As the damaged lungs were removed, Melissa was put on a sophisticated life support machine, along with other support devices such as a portable artificial lung. She then entered septic shock and her organs began to shut down.

In what has been hailed as a medical first, 32-year-old Melissa Benoit had both of her lungs taken out, and lived without them for nearly a week until she could get a transplant.

"For the first time in my life, I can actually say that I feel like I'm living, despite the little consequences of the surgery".

"What helped us is the fact that we knew it was a matter of hours before she would die", Dr. Shaf Keshavjee, one of Benoit's surgeons, told The Guardian. The patient also said hospital staff forced her to sit in a chair for at least one hour every day and walk around to speed up her recovery.

The two machines responsible for keeping Melissa alive as the lungs were removed, and over the course of the following six days, were a Novalung and an Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO).

"Things were so bad for so long, we needed something to go right", Benoit's husband Chris said.

According to the doctors involved, her condition had improved dramatically only hours after the procedure - and ultimately donor lungs were found in late December. "Technically, it was hard to get them out of her chest". Two machines were used to keep the Canadian nurse alive - a Novalung, an advanced piece of equipment whose goal is to infuse the blood with oxygen and to remove the carbon dioxide, and another apparatus called the Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation Machine (EMCO) whose duty was to help the woman's heart pump blood to vital areas of the body.

"The transplant procedure was not complicated because half of it was done already", said Dr. Cypel.

"I get to be home and it's the best feeling ever". "And here I am walking", she said, hugging her daughter Olivia.