Doctors at UCLA have completed the first successful "breathing lung" transplant.
In November, transplant patient Fernando Padilla, 57, got an early-morning call that a pair of donor lungs were available, UCLA reports.
But they weren't going to be delivered in the traditional icebox method. Instead, the doctors used an experimental device that kept the lungs breathing as they were transported from another state.
“They are as close as possible as they could be left in a live state,” Dr. Abbas Ardehali, director of the UCLA Transplant Program, told KTLA.
The lungs rose and fell in a box, as they were supplied with oxygen and a special solution supplemented with red-blood cells, NBC reports. Doctors described seeing the "breathing lungs" outside a body as "surreal."
This new technique will make for more successful lung transplant surgeries in the future, said Padilla's doctors. "Lungs are very sensitive and can easily be damaged during the donation process," Dr. Ardehali said on the UCLA site. "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."
Months later, the seven-hour transplant surgery has been deemed a success. It used to be a struggle for Padilla to take even a few steps, and he was permanently tethered to an oxygen tank, according to UCLA.
Now, he enjoys walking several miles a day with his wife and playing with his grandchildren.
"I'm feeling really good," Padilla said to NBC. "Getting stronger every day."