A man's life has been saved by emergency breast implants, after a lung infection required him to have a double lung transplant.
That's a sentence that needs some explaining. 34-year-old David “Davey” Bauer, described as vaping for years after smoking from the age of 21 until he quit in 2014, caught influenza and developed a secondary lung infection. Resistant to antibiotics, he needed a double lung transplant in order to survive.
He was admitted to a hospital in St. Louis, Missouri, where he was placed on Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO), which removes blood from the patient and oxygenates it before returning it to their body, acting as temporary artificial lungs. His condition continued to get worse, at which point his medical team contacted the Northwestern Medicine Canning Thoracic Institute.
“Davey’s lungs were so heavily infected that they started to liquify," Rade Tomic, MD, pulmonologist and medical director of the Northwestern Medicine Canning Thoracic Institute Lung Transplant Program said in a press release. "If you looked at his X-ray, there was nothing left – the lungs were completely filled with puss."
In order to be listed for a transplant he needed to clear the infection, "but the only way to do that was to remove both lungs. This was unchartered territory for us, but our team knew if we couldn’t help Davey, no one else could.”
Without lungs, Davey would need prosthetics in order to prevent his heart from collapsing into his chest cavity. Enter stage left: breast implants. As well as a lot of other problems, the team needed to find the right cup size.
“One of our plastic surgeons was very gracious to give us a rapid-fire course on the different types, shapes and sizes of breast implants, so we picked out a couple options and some of them were easier than others to mold inside Davey’s chest, with the DD option being the best fit,” Ankit Bharat, MD, chief of thoracic surgery and director of the Canning Thoracic Institute added. “I never imagined we’d be using DD breast implants to help bridge a patient to lung transplantation, but our team is known for taking on the most difficult cases and thinking outside the box to save lives.”
With the infected lungs removed and breast implants in place, Bauer fought off the infection, and soon a pair of donor lungs became available. On May 28, he received the new lungs, before spending several months recovering in intensive care and being discharged to rehabilitation in September.
“I plan to get a t-shirt made that says ‘DD Davey’ on it and change all my gaming profiles,” Bauer, who has a GoFundMe for his medical treatment, said. “But in all seriousness, I’m so proud to be the first Northwestern Medicine patient to undergo this innovative procedure, and I hope this medical first paves the way for more critically ill patients to receive lung transplants in the near future.”
“While we don’t have definitive ways of proving my years of vaping caused my medical condition, doctors do know for a fact that vaping causes lung injury," he added. "If I could go back in time, I never would have picked up a cigarette or vape pen, and I hope my story can help encourage others to quit, because I wouldn’t wish this difficult journey on anyone.”
The team says that the case shows that it's possible to keep patients temporarily alive without lungs while they await transplants using new technology.
"With this new approach that we’ve developed, many patients who get to the point of needing a lung transplant – but their damaged lungs are making them too sick to get one – can now potentially get transplanted," Bharat added. "I think it’s going to open a lot of doors for many patients who have no other options.”