MUSC launches new lung transplant program

CHARLESTON, SC (WCSC) - MUSC performed its first lung transplant in more than 15 years March 9.  Before the program was approved, anyone needing a lung transplant had to travel out of state.

Evin Evans of Anderson was the new team's first patient.

"A lot of my friends and family said 'Have you lost your mind'? You are the fist candidate in Charleston," Evans said.

Evans has been living with reduced lung function as the result of asthma and Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease. Her lung function had been steadily deteriorating over the past two years.

"We have no cure, no way to fix this problem, the only way to extend this patient's life is to get a lung transplant," says pulmonologist Dr. Tim Whelan, the Medical Director of the Lung Transplant Team.

MUSC received certification from the United Network for Organ Sharing (UNOS) in October to launch its Adult Lung Transplant Program. Patient screening started in November. On March 9, Dr. Whelan got the call that new lungs were waiting for Evans.

"I was not nervous at all. I knew we were ready," said Whelan.

After six hours of surgery, Evans took her first breath.

"I remember thinking, what's it gonna feel like to take that first breath, was it gonna be different because they were someone else's," said Evans.

Evans was released after nine days of surgery. The average for a lung transplant patient is 22 days. Evans has returned to her farm in Anderson, but will return to MUSC for three to four months of rehab.

"I hope to honor that person by taking as good a care of these lungs as that person did," Evans said.

Until Evan's surgery, approximately 80 lungs recovered each year in South Carolina were sent out of state. About 60 patients a year in South Carolina are in need of a lung transplant. Patients typically in need of a lung transplant have advanced cases of chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD, which includes chronic bronchitis, emphysema, or both), idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), or cystic fibrosis.

The Lung Transplant Team expects to perform 30 to 40 transplants a year at MUSC.

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