Chicago-area hospitals aim to boost transplants with 'lung in a box'

CHICAGO TRIBUNE | Lisa Schenckner
Bob Falat, 72, of Lockport, exercises at the Cardiopulmonary Rehab Center at Silver Cross Hospital in New Lenox on May 17, 2018. Falat, who suffered from emphysema, received a new lung on Jan. 10. (Stacey Wescott / Chicago Tribune)
Emphysema crept up on Bob Falat, gradually robbing him of his ability to breathe.

The Lockport man, 72, had to use oxygen day and night after smoking for nearly 40 years — a habit he now calls the worst thing he’s ever done. He was on the waiting list for a lung transplant, but he wasn’t sure he’d survive long enough to get it.

That’s when his doctors at Loyola Medicine presented him with a new option: get a donor lung that initially might not have seemed healthy enough to use. Falat was hesitant, but there were few alternatives.

In January, Falat became the first person at Loyola to receive a lung using technology sometimes known as “lung in a box,” as part of a clinical trial. The idea behind the technology is to see if donor lungs that once may have been discarded may be healthy enough to transplant if given more time to evaluate.

It’s an innovation that could offer promise to patients with serious lung conditions who might otherwise have a tough time getting transplants quickly, given that about 80 percent of donated lungs are now considered unusable. Some hospitals, such as University of Chicago Medical Center, have used the technology in-house, while others such as Loyola University Medical Center are flying lungs to a central location for testing. Continue reading