Featuring: Ankit Bharat, MD
In 2020, Josh Burton was diagnosed with pulmonary veno-occlusive disease, a rare condition causing narrowing and impaired blood flow in the small veins of the lungs. To survive, he underwent a double-lung transplant in the spring of 2021. However, a year later, he contracted RSV, leading to graft failure in his new lungs.
More than 20 hospitals declined retransplantation until Northwestern Medicine accepted his case. Known for tackling challenging cases, including pioneering COVID-19 lung transplants in the U.S., the Northwestern Medicine Lung Transplant team undertook the case.
Josh's lung function rapidly deteriorated upon admission, necessitating ECMO support. He experienced 13 "dry runs," where potential donor lungs were deemed unsuitable for transplant. Eventually, a suitable match was found, leading to a successful surgery.
“In my entire career, I’ve never witnessed 13 dry runs for new lungs. It was a roller coaster of emotions for Josh’s family, but this can happen due to undetected pneumonia or other illnesses in the donor lungs,” explains Ankit Bharat, MD, chief of Thoracic Surgery and director of the Northwestern Medicine Canning Thoracic Institute. “Josh was battling a bad viral infection, he was on ECMO for a long time, he was critically ill and most importantly – his anatomy was completely altered due to his previous lung transplant. Josh’s case was tricky for a number of reasons, but these are the types of cases our team takes on because we want to be known as a destination of hope.”
“Throughout this transplant journey, I could see Josh giving up, but the Transplant team at Northwestern Medicine saved him, and he’s been rallying ever since. They are our heroes, no question,” says Kelly Burton, the patient's mother.
Inside Josh’s hospital room at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, dinosaurs were everywhere. He wants to be a paleontologist someday, but because of his transplants, he’s unable to work with dirt.
When the Field Museum in Chicago heard about Josh’s case and his love for dinosaurs, they made him an honorary paleontologist for a day, giving Josh and his mom got a behind-the-scenes museum tour. Josh learned that most methods used by paleontologists today, especially the most cutting-edge, are all techniques that would be still be accessible to him — without needing to go into the field.
Ankit Bharat, MD, is the chief of Thoracic Surgery in the Department of Surgery, Harold L. and Margaret N. Method Research Professor of Surgery and associate professor of Surgery (Thoracic Surgery) and Medicine (Pulmonary and Critical Care).
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