UPMC Reaches Lung Transplant Milestone

By: Lawerence Synett, Martin Kinnunen and Timothy Betler

Growing up with cystic fibrosis, Michael Keller’s parents always encouraged him to lead as normal and active life as he could.

He joined the swim and soccer teams, ran track, graduated from high school, earned his college degree, and got married. It wasn’t until about seven years ago that his cystic fibrosis worsened, forcing him first to use supplemental oxygen at night to eventually requiring it 24 hours a day.

“My quality of life and longevity thus far can most definitely be attributed to my family pushing me to not let cystic fibrosis hold me back,” said Keller, of Bellefonte, Pennsylvania. “A lot of milestones normal people would set, I set for myself.”

As the 32-year-old’s condition continued to deteriorate, his doctors in Hershey, Pennsylvania, encouraged him to establish a relationship with the UPMC Lung Transplant Program. Cystic fibrosis is a condition with no cure that damages the lungs, and a transplant eventually would be necessary.

On Dec. 6, Keller and his wife, Lisa Keller, learned that suitable donor lungs were available at UPMC. The marketing specialist at Penn State University received his new lungs on Dec. 7 at UPMC Presbyterian and was discharged on Jan. 3 to continue his recovery at home.

So far, recovery has gone well.

“It’s an amazing feeling to not have an oxygen tank strapped to my back,” Keller said. “I recently got to listen to the lungs for the first time. It was emotional to hear that clarity and finally be able to breathe freely.”

The successful procedure marks a major milestone for the UPMC Lung Transplant Program, which was established in 1982 and has become one of the largest and most experienced centers in the world for lung and combined heart-lung transplantation.

“We’re one of only a few programs in the United States that has achieved this volume, while maintaining outcomes that are on par with national averages,” said Dr. Jonathan D’Cunha, UPMC’s head of lung transplantation. “Reaching our 2,000th lung transplant is a reflection of the clinical excellence found at UPMC.”

One of the first patients to receive a double lung transplant at UPMC was Paul McGuinness in November of 1988.

The Avalon, Pennsylvania, resident lived with cystic fibrosis while waiting 15 months before receiving his transplant and was told at the time that he had only a 10 percent chance of living five years. He’s now 65 years old.

“Of course I wanted to do the transplant,” said McGuinness. “When the surgeon took out my lungs, he said they were the worst he had ever seen. This transplant was a gift, and I cherish that gift. I’m lucky to be here.”

For more information about UPMC Transplant Services, click here.

To become an organ donor, go to https://www.donatelife.net/.