Nearly two months after receiving a new set of lungs, “I’m not sore!” is the first thing Kyle Clark, 25, of Imlay City likes to share about his near-miraculous lung transplant experience at the University of Michigan Health System. Kyle was born with cystic fibrosis, a life-threatening genetic disease that floods the body with mucus, which builds up and reduces the ability of organs like the lungs to do their job.
Over the years, cystic fibrosis slowly damaged Kyle’s lungs, interfering with his college education, job and one of his favorite pastimes, hunting. By 2014 Kyle needed oxygen round the clock and reluctantly gave up most of the activities he loved. Breathing became a daily struggle, and Kyle was even admitted to UMHS at one point in critical condition, though he recovered enough to go home.
A medical device new to the market saved Kyle’s life. On Feb. 18, just five days after being accepted to a waiting list for lung transplant, Kyle received a new set of lungs at UMHS.
“By that time, I was really, really sick,” Kyle remembers.
Kyle’s miracle machine was the revolutionary XVIVO Perfusion System from Sweden. It has the ability to keep lungs “alive” for up to six hours outside the body, with the ability to recover the lungs outside of the donor, while doctors evaluate their suitability for transplant. In Kyle’s case, the donated lungs would not have been suitable but for the recovery process they went through prior to implantation, and he would have remained on the transplant waiting list, losing more of his ability to breathe as each day passed.
“Historically, less than 20% of organ donors actually have their lungs used to save a life. Often the nature of a donor’s death traumatizes the lungs, even when other organs are usable. For example, lungs may be bruised or punctured from the trauma of an automobile accident,” says Rishi Reddy, M.D., one of the U-M transplant surgeons who performed Kyle’s transplant. “But some that are currently unusable can benefit from the special incubation and reconditioning in the XVIVO device. This means that in the future, there will be more lungs available for transplant, and people on the list could have shorter wait times.”
Transplants using the XVIVO machine currently take place within the framework of a clinical trial. The University of Michigan, Gift of Life Michigan, who purchased the device, and Henry Ford and Spectrum health systems are collaborating in the clinical trial. The device resides at U-M where its transplant surgeons use the XVIVO device to provide services to the lung transplant programs at Henry Ford and Spectrum.
“Kyle was a very sick young man when he was admitted, and we were able to move him along an expedited pathway to join the clinical trial,” says Reddy. “We accepted a lung offer from a donor where the lungs were not optimal, but we felt that they could be improved. Right now, our transplant team knows within about four hours whether lungs being optimized in the XVIVO are going to be fit for transplant. But the window of suitability is brief and the transplant must take place immediately.”
Today, Kyle looks forward to being his old self again, spending time with family and friends, playing the guitar and enjoying the outdoors. An avid hunter, it’s been hard on Kyle to live in the Michigan Thumb and not enjoy that annual pastime. He is also planning his return to college, with a major in media production.
Kyle says the topic of organ donation comes up all the time with his family and friends.
“I encourage everyone who can to register as an organ donor. I know some people personally who have joined a registry because of my own case,” he says.
Take the next step:
- Watch a Detroit Free Press video about Kyle’s groundbreaking surgery.
- Find answers to questions about becoming an organ donor in Michigan or elsewhere.
- Register as a potential bone marrow
- Learn about lung transplantation at the University of Michigan Transplant Center.
- Learn more about clinical trials of devices and the path to FDA approval.
Gift of Life Michigan, headquartered in Ann Arbor, is the state’s only federally designated organ and tissue recovery program, providing all services necessary for organ donation to occur in Michigan. The non-profit organization works 24 hours a day all over the state as a liaison between donors, hospitals and transplant centers.
For more than 160 years, the University of Michigan Health System has been a national leader in advanced patient care, innovative research to improve human health and comprehensive education of physicians and medical scientists. The three U-M hospitals have been recognized numerous times for excellence in patient care, including a #1 ranking in Michigan and national rankings in many specialty areas by U.S. News & World Report.