Living Donation

Gary Cunningham: Lung Transplant Patient Story

Gary Cunningham

The Challenge: Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis

In the spring of 2010, Gary Cunningham was cutting his grass for the first time of the season when he began experiencing shortness of breath and became fatigued.

Gary thought he was just out of shape, so he and his wife Nancy began walking regularly for exercise. He continued to be active, but his symptoms persisted.

Gary went to his primary care physician in August 2010 and was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF).

IPF is a serious lung disease that causes scarring or stiffening of the lungs without a known cause. When the lungs become scarred or stiff, it can become very difficult to breathe.

Symptoms can include cough, low tolerance for activity, and shortness of breath. IPF can progress rapidly over the course of a few months, or more slowly over a period of years.

The Path to the UPMC Lung Transplant Program

Gary came to the UPMC Simmons Center for Interstitial Lung Disease in 2011. He returned regularly until July 2012 when his symptoms became very severe and he was put on oxygen.

By October 2012, he was on oxygen full-time and in January 2013, he began evaluation for lung transplantation and was eventually placed on the lung transplant waiting list.

Although Gary was nervous, he was in the right place when he came to UPMC.

“When I was first diagnosed, I was floored, but the strength, knowledge, courage, and compassion of the doctors, nurses, and care team was amazing. They made me feel as comfortable as possible,”

The Solution: "Breathing Lung" Transplant

On March 4, 2013, Gary became the first patient at UPMC to receive a “breathing lung” transplant through the Transmedics® Organ Care System™ (OCS) Lung Machine.

The OCS Lung is a perfusion machine that provides the lungs with oxygen, blood, and a special solution that protects the lungs from contamination. The machine also keeps the lungs at a normal body temperature, which can allow surgeons to use organs that would otherwise be discarded. UPMC was the first health system on the East Coast to use this device.

Gary returned home two weeks later. Gary’s recovery process began slowly with walking and light exercise. By September, he was able to go on vacation.

“I was able to play my first round of golf and get my life back to the new normal.”

Gary is very grateful for his transplant and tries to “pay it forward” by spending time with potential transplant patients, offering them support and sharing his experience.

“If someone wouldn’t have donated their organ to me, I wouldn’t be here today. One donor can have such a great impact and give life to so many others. Organ donation saved my life; it can save someone else’s.”

Gary’s treatment and results may not be representative of all similar cases.

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