Lung recipient's progress sparks hope for others BALTIMORE COUTY

February 10, 1993|By Frank D. Roylance | Frank D. Roylance,Staff Writer

Gordon West has finally gotten his golf score back down into the high-80s.

That's only news because for the past year Mr. West, 52, has been living and golfing with just one good lung, donated by the family of a young Baltimore man who died last year of a severe head injury.

On Feb. 7 last year Mr. West became Maryland's first single-lung transplant recipient. Since then, his vigorous recovery has cheered his doctors at University of Maryland Medical Center and provided hope to some of the 500 Marylanders waiting for donor organs.

"I was back playing golf five weeks after I left the hospital," he said. Last April, the Princess Anne resident played in his first post-operation tournament at Ocean Pines Golf Club near Ocean City.

"I didn't shoot great, but I was certainly glad to be there," he said.

He's also back on the job as a collector for the General Motors Acceptance Corp. in Salisbury and no longer totes the oxygen tank he needed before surgery.

"I feel great. That's what's so amazing," he said.

Some lung-transplant candidates, encouraged by his success, have even called him to express their delight.

In the months before his operation, Mr. West's emphysema had so limited his endurance he couldn't climb out of sand traps. By the time he entered UM Medical Center, he could barely walk from the car to the hospital door. Without the donor lung, he would have died.

"He'll never be out of the woods entirely," said Dr. Lewis J. Rubin, the hospital's director of pulmonary care. The threats include his immune system suddenly rejecting the donated lung, or a problem with the drug needed to suppress rejection.

Mr. West has had two bouts of rejection, the first days after he left the hospital last February. He was re-admitted for nine days and lost 16 pounds. Several months later, he had another bout.

He continues to take six medications, including the anti-rejection drug cyclosporin, an antibiotic and a medication to lower his blood cholesterol. Weekly blood tests screen for signs of rejection, and he visits doctors at the medical center every two months.

Beyond those medical problems, his biggest problem has been weight gain. Only 150 pounds when he left the hospital, he said, "I started eating everything in sight," and went up to 180 pounds. He's trimming down now and gaining strength.

"If I get back to 170, I'll be faster than a speeding bullet," he said.

Having survived the first year, Mr. West already has passed a milestone, Dr. Rubin said. Mortality rates are highest during the first year.

Nationwide, 70 percent to 75 percent of all single-lung transplant patients survive the first year, Dr. Rubin said, while 60 percent to 65 percent survive the first three years. There are no reliable data on survival rates beyond three years.

The single-lung transplant is a relatively new procedure and is regarded as simpler for surgeons and easier on patients than double-lung or heart-and-lung transplants. It also leaves the donor's second lung and heart available for other desperately ill patients.

Until the recent development of new surgical techniques, success rates for single-lung transplants were much lower than for double-lung surgery. Even with the new techniques, said Dr. Rubin, "These patients are the most challenging to our clinical abilities."

"It's very gratifying to see the kind of result that's been achieved," he said. "But we need more donors."

Joyce Tarrant, a spokeswoman for the Maryland Transplant Resource Center, said 68 people donated their organs in Maryland in 1992, up 5 percent from the 56 who donated in 1991.

Twelve people are on the medical center's waiting list for donated lungs. The shortage of donors is so severe, surgeons there have performed only two other single-lung transplants since Mr. West's operation. One patient, a 31-year-old woman, has since returned to work full time. The other, a 62-year-old Joppa man, received his lung Feb. 7 and is recovering.

"Some patients on our list have been on there for longer than a year," Dr. Rubin said. "We haven't lost anybody yet on our list. But the average nationwide is that 30 [percent] to 40 percent of the patients on the list die" before a donor organ becomes available. "We've been very lucky."

For donor cards or more information on organ donations, contact the Transplant Resource Center at (410) 328-3626.

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