A second person has been cured of terminal lung cancer after a rare double lung transplant.
Tannaz Ameli, 64, of Minneapolis, Minnesota, has now been declared cancer-free after undergoing the surgery at Northwestern Medicine in June. She joins Albert Khoury, 54, who had successful surgery in 2021.
Lung transplants for patients at this stage would generally be a complete ‘no-no’, explained Dr. Ankit Bharatsaid Northwestern’s chief of thoracic surgery. But fortunately for Mr. Khoury and Ms. Ameli, their cancer has not spread beyond their lungs.
This is a rare feature of stage 4 lung cancer. It allows the transplant to completely eliminate the disease, making the couple perfect candidates for the operation.
Lung cancer is one of the leading causes of death for Americans, with the disease causing about 120,000 deaths each year. It is estimated that 240,000 cases will be diagnosed in 2023.
Tannaz Ameli (left) and Albert Khoury (right) are the first two patients to receive double lung transplants at Northwestern Medicine.
Mr. Khoury received his transplant in September 2021. A non-smoker, he was working as a cement finisher for the Chicago Department of Transportation in early 2020 when he began experiencing back pain, sneezing, chills, and coughing up mucus.
Initially he thought he had Covid. She knew something worse was happening when she called her doctor after he started coughing up blood.
Khoury was later diagnosed with stage 1 lung cancer, but the pandemic meant he was unable to start treatment immediately.
Within months, she had grown to stage 2, and despite several rounds of chemotherapy, her cancer continued to worsen, eventually reaching stage 4.
“Doctors from other health systems told me there was no chance of survival,” Khoury said.
Then his sister saw a news story about lung transplants being done for covid patients at Northwestern Medicine and convinced him to make an appointment.
Mr. Khoury’s health only worsened when his sister saw a news story about lung transplants being done for covid patients at Northwestern Medicine and convinced him to make an appointment.
meanwhile the man he developed pneumonia and sepsis and was put on a ventilator in the intensive care unit.
Mr. Khoury, a non-smoker, began suffering from back pain, sneezing, chills and coughing up mucus in early 2020.
Like Mr. Khoury, Ms. Ameli required no further cancer therapy after receiving her double lung transplant.
As her condition deteriorated, doctors began to consider surgery.
Cancer that did not metastasize, or spread to different areas of the body, gave hope for a double lung transplant.
A double lung transplant is when both lungs are removed from the recipient, one at a time, and replaced with donor lungs in a single operation.
But using the surgeon’s new technique, they remove both cancer-infected lungs at the same time and then replace them with new ones.
The original transplant technique risks cancer cells passing between the old lung and the new lung when only one lung has been replaced.
Doctors had to be extremely careful during the seven-hour operation not to let any cancer cells spill from Mr. Khoury’s old lungs into his chest cavity or bloodstream.
Any cancer cells that leak out could turn into a new cancer in another part of the body.
Eighteen months later, there were still no signs of cancer in Mr. Khoury’s body and he was able to return to work.
He said: ‘My life went from zero to 100 thanks to Northwestern Medicine. You didn’t see this smile on my face for over a year, but now I can’t stop smiling. My medical team never gave up on me.
Ms. Ameli, a retired nurse and also a non-smoker, suffered from a chronic cough in late 2021.
He was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer when he went to his doctor’s office to investigate the coughing fits.
Chemotherapy treatment did not help; the hospital suggested that she be transferred to hospice for end-of-life care.
Ms Ameli said: ‘I begged my doctors in Minnesota to consider a lung transplant, but they didn’t. Fortunately, my husband refused to give up and pushed for a second opinion.
Like Mr. Khoury, Ms. Ameli required no further cancer therapy after her double lung transplant.
Northwestern Medical surgeons have created a new surgical technique to remove the cancer and minimize the risk of it spreading.
Dr Bharat said: “This innovative technique involves placing the patient on a complete heart-lung bypass, gently removing both lungs with cancer simultaneously along with the lymph nodes, washing the airway and chest cavity to remove the cancer , and then put new lungs inside.
Northwestern’s new DREAM program offers hope to other terminally ill lung cancer patients.
The results of the first 75 patients in the program will be monitored in a new investigation, called DREAM, to track transplant outcomes.