Fernando Padilla was part of an outside-the-icebox transplant process when he became the nation's first "breathing lung" recipient -- a procedure that allows him to walk several miles per day without the oxygen tanks that had been part of his life.
The former construction worker participated in a study that compares the TransMedics Organ Care System (OCS) transport method -- the donor lungs remain in a breathing state during transport -- to the traditional icebox method.
"If they've got new technology to deliver the lungs still breathing, I think that would be better than trying to wake them back up again after being on ice," said Padilla, who helped build Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, the same hospital at which he was a patient. "I'm just following technology."
Padilla had difficulty breathing after walking more than a few steps because of pulmonary fibrosis. The disease caused scar tissue to harden on his lungs, requiring the double lung transplant.
He was notified in November that donor lungs were available.
Using the OCS method, the lungs were removed from the donor's body, then transported in a box in which they were kept in a "breathing state." The lungs were supplied with oxygen and a special solution supplemented with red-blood cells.
Monitors on the transport box allow doctors to make sure the lungs function properly during transport.
"The cold-storage method does not allow for reconditioning of the lungs, but this promising technology enables us to potentially improve the function of the donor lungs before they are placed in the recipient," said Dr. Abbas Ardehali, professor of cardiothoracic surgery and director of the heart and lung transplantation program at UCLA.
The lungs used for Padilla's transplant came to Southern California from out of state for the seven-hour surgery.
The standard practice of transporting lungs in an icebox places them in a non-functioning state. When Padilla's donated lungs arrived, they rose and fell in the box as they would in a breathing state inside the body -- a sight Ardehali described as "surreal."
"I'm feeling really good," said Padilla. "Getting stronger every day."
Watch the video below to see the breathing lungs.