Featuring: Rade Tomic, MD
In May 2020, Hurd noticed she was short of breath, but it wasn’t COVID-19. She was diagnosed with pulmonary hypertension (PH), which refers to high blood pressure in the lungs. PH is a rare disease that affects the blood vessels in the lungs and the right side of the heart. It causes the heart and lungs to weaken over time, which ultimately leads to death.
By May 2021, Hurd’s lungs were failing, and she was admitted to Northwestern Memorial for consideration of a double-lung transplant. Due to Hurd’s heart failing on the right side, it caused poor kidney perfusion, which meant – Hurd also needed a kidney transplant.
On July 7, 2021, Hurd was listed for a lung and kidney transplant, but it was difficult to find a match.
Hurd was highly sensitized – meaning, she had developed a lot of antibodies in her bloodstream. This can happen during childbirth or through previous blood transfusions. Bottom line, these antibodies would reject new organs in Hurd’s body.
So, the transplant team took a chance.
On May 15, 2022, they accepted organs that were not the right match and created a protocol to get rid of the antibodies in Hurd’s bloodstream to make her a good match.
They wiped Hurd’s immune system so she wouldn’t reject the new organs. This was achieved through medications and plasmapheresis treatment before and after surgery, which involves removing blood through a catheter and circulating it in a machine to remove the antibodies. Hurd was the first Northwestern Medicine lung transplant patient to receive this treatment. To date, it’s now been performed on five more Northwestern Medicine lung transplant patients.
“Colette has opened the door for many more patients across the country who would otherwise die while waiting for a lung transplant,” said Rade Tomic, MD, medical director of the Northwestern Medicine Lung Transplant Program. “Until Colette, this type of treatment, where we immediately administer medications and plasmapheresis before and after surgery, was only done in Toronto for lung transplant patients. It’s very uncommon.”
“Transplant is such a young field that we’re still learning what the boundaries are,” said Satish Nadig, MD, PhD, chief of organ transplantation at Northwestern Medicine, who performed Hurd’s kidney transplant. “With Colette’s case, our transplant team was able to push that boundary, immunologically speaking, even further to the benefit of those requiring life-saving organs globally.”
During her 15-month hospitalization, Hurd developed strong relationships with her medical team – especially Kari Brouwer, OTR/L, a Northwestern Medicine occupational therapist, who helped Hurd’s husband, Dennis, surprise his wife with a vow renewal at the hospital chapel for their 20th wedding anniversary.
“Colette is such a bright light and rubs off on everyone she meets,” said Brouwer. “She wants to support you, remembers your name, renews your hope, and reminds you why you got into health care in the first place. We will never forget her.”
On August 11, hospital staff lined the hallway, cheering Hurd on as she was officially discharged from Northwestern Memorial.
“This team at Northwestern Medicine never gave up on me. Even though I had so many issues with the antibodies in my blood, they were always thinking outside the box,” said Hurd. “I hope my story encourages others to register as organ donors – especially the African American community. I’ve been a registered donor since I first got my driver’s license, and we need more African Americans to sign up as donors. It will help someone else – just like somebody helped me.”
This article was originally published in the Northwestern Medicine Newsroom on August 11, 2022.
Rade Tomic, MD, medical director of the Northwestern Medicine Lung Transplant Program and professor of Pulmonary and Critical Care in the department of Medicine.
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