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 following surgery at Northwestern Medicine in June. She joins Albert Khoury, 54, who successfully underwent the Northwestern surgery in 2021.
Lung transplants for patients at this stage would usually be a ‘complete no-no’, explained Dr. Ankit Bharatsaid Northwestern’s chief of thoracic surgery. But luckily for Mr. Khoury and Mrs. Ameli, their cancer did not spread beyond their lungs.
This is a rare feature for stage 4 lung cancer. This allows the transplant to completely remove the disease, making the couple perfect candidates for the surgery.
Lung cancer is one of the leading causes of death for Americans, with approximately 120,000 deaths each year. An estimated 240,000 cases will be diagnosed by 2023.
Tannaz Ameli (left) and Albert Khoury (right) are the first two patients to receive a double lung transplant 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 started experiencing back pain, sneezing, chills and coughing up phlegm.
He initially thought he had Covid. He knew something worse was going on when he called his doctor after he started coughing up blood.
Mr. Khoury was later diagnosed with stage 1 lung cancer, but the pandemic prevented him from starting treatment immediately.
Within months it had progressed to stage 2 and despite several rounds of chemotherapy his cancer continued to worsen and eventually reached stage 4.
“Doctors from other health systems told me there was no chance of survival,” Khoury said.
Then his sister saw a news report about lung transplants being pioneered for Covid patients at Northwestern Medicine and persuaded him to make an appointment.
Mr. Khoury’s health only took a turn for the worse when his sister saw a news report about lung transplants being pioneered for Covid patients at Northwestern Medicine and persuaded him to make an appointment.
Meanwhile man developed pneumonia and sepsis and was put on a ventilator in intensive care.
Mr. Khoury, a non-smoker, began experiencing back pain, sneezing, chills and coughing up phlegm in early 2020
Like Mr. Khoury, Ms. Ameli required no further cancer therapy after her double lung transplant
As his condition worsened, doctors began to consider surgery.
The cancer that didn’t metastasize — or spread to different parts of the body — allowed hope for a double lung transplant.
In a double lung transplant, both lungs are removed from the recipient one at a time and replaced with the lungs from a donor in a single operation.
But with the surgeon’s new technique, they take out both cancer-infected lungs at the same time and replace them with new ones.
With the original transplant technique, there is a risk of cancer cells passing between the old lung and the new lung if only one has been replaced.
The doctors had to be extremely careful during the seven-hour operation to prevent any cancer cells from Mr. Khoury’s old lungs from entering his chest cavity or bloodstream.
Any cancer cells that are released can become new cancer elsewhere in 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 haven’t seen 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, developed a chronic cough at the end of 2021.
She was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer when she went to her doctor’s office to investigate the coughing spells.
Chemotherapy didn’t help; the hospital suggested she be transferred to a hospice for end-of-life care.
Ms. Ameli said, “I begged my doctors in Minnesota to consider a lung transplant, but they wouldn’t do it. Fortunately, my husband refused to give up and insisted on a second opinion.’
Like Mr. Khoury, Mrs. Ameli did not require further cancer therapy after her double lung transplant.
Northwestern Medical surgeons developed a new surgical technique to eliminate the cancer while minimizing the risk of it spreading.
Dr. Bharat said: ‘This innovative technique involves the patient having a complete heart and lung bypass, carefully taking out both cancer-ridden lungs at the same time as the lymph nodes, washing the airways and chest cavity to remove the cancer, and then putting new lungs in. .’
Northwestern’s new DREAM program offers hope to other terminally ill lung cancer patients.
The results of the program’s first 75 patients will be followed in new research called DREAM to track the results of transplants.