Health Team

Duke patient receives lung transplant from living donors

Posted June 18, 2013
Updated June 22, 2013

Although it's generally believed that transplanted lungs must come from a person who has recently died, a woman and two donors who underwent surgery at Duke University Hospital are alive and well. 

Kayla Gilbert, a 25-year-old from Rhode Island, originally began having lung problems associated with cystic fibrosis in 2008 after visiting a farm. Moldy hay put her in the hospital for a month. 

"Thankfully, the mold cleared up. But my lung function wasn't able to go back up," Gilbert said. 

A year and a half after receiving a lung transplant in Boston, Gilbert's body began rejecting the organs. 

Although she needed a second surgery to avoid the possibility of death, two major transplant centers turned her down. 

"She was too sick to transplant," Karen Boschetti, Gilbert's mother, said. 

After being turned down for the second time, Gilbert and her mother came to Duke University Hospital for an evaluation. Doctors suggested finding two living donors who would each give one lung lobe. 

Gilbert's adopted cousin and adopted cousin's boyfriend tested as positive matches, allowing doctors in January to complete the surgery for just the third time in the United States since 2008. 

Duane Davis, a Duke cardiothoracic surgeon, said living lung donors do sacrifice about 25 percent of their lung capacity in the process. 

"If you were a world class marathoner, you would not be a world class marathoner afterwards," Davis said. "But would you be able to do almost anything else? Yes."

Davis said Gilbert's predicted lung function may only reach up to 80 percent. Gilbert says every breath is precious. 

"These two lobes, they're just, it's just insane how they've given me a second chance," she said.


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