(WTVM) - Each year, about 1,400 lung transplants are performed in the US.
The traditional way to transport lungs for surgery involved putting them in a cooler with ice. Now, there's a better way to preserve these organs.
Fernando Padilla takes pride in his car, and his family. But a year and a half ago, he couldn't keep up with either. Pulmonary fibrosis destroyed his lungs.
"I was getting tired," he says. "I was coughing a lot, and I was spitting up a lot."
Padilla's wife, Lupe, says, "I seen how bad he was getting you know, day by day."
Padilla needed a transplant. When donor lungs became available, doctors used an experimental technology to transport them. It's called "Lung in a Box".
"This technology has the promise to improve the outcome of lung transplantation," says Dr. Abbas Ardehali with the School of Medicine at UCLA.
Instead of putting the organ on ice, doctors kept his lungs in a warm, breathing state. A machine circulated blood and oxygen through them.
Padilla was the first patient in the US to have his lungs stored this way. Since then, doctors have studied more than 300 cases.
"We have noted that the patients who are receiving their organs, their lungs that were kept in the box do better," says Ardehali.
Lungs on ice cannot survive for more than eight hours. With the box, doctors have transplanted lungs after 12 hours.
Today, Padilla is healthy and back to doing what he loves most.
The lung in a box technology will soon be tested in another clinical trial to see if it can improve the condition of lungs that are considered unusable. The idea is to expand the donor pool so more patients can receive life-saving transplants.