How One Woman Survived Six Days Without Lungs

Her family had already said their goodbyes.

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When then-32-year-old Melissa Benoit came down with swine flu in February 2016, her family didn't think she was going to make it. Benoit has cystic fibrosis, and her disease (plus a number of bacterial infections she'd had in the three years prior) had weakened her lungs so much that this one bad case of the flu was pushing her closer and closer to death.

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By April, Benoit's lungs were "hard as a football" and filled with mucous and blood, her coughing fits were so severe that she fractured her ribs, and she was having trouble performing basic tasks, such as walking to the bathroom, The Washington Post reports. She was so sick that she was taken off the lung transplant waitlist — and her family members said their goodbyes.

Like Benoit's family members, her doctors at Toronto General Hospital were fairly certain that she wouldn't make it. But they had been discussing one possible solution: They could completely remove her lungs and hook her up to a machine that would do her breathing for her until a set of donor lungs became available. This technique had never been used to support a patient long-term. But Benoit's doctors were hopeful. They explained the procedure to Benoit's family and were given the green light to go ahead and do everything they could.

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"The family understood the risks and explained that Melissa had often told them she would want to try everything possible to live for her husband, Chris, and 2-year-old daughter, Olivia," the hospital wrote in a news release.

The risky procedure, which involved attaching a small artificial lung called a Novalung to Benoit's heart and implementing another device that helped to circulate the oxygenated blood throughout her body, took Benoit's surgeons nine hours to complete — but it was a success. She was put into a medically induced coma and brought to the ICU.

Then came the waiting game. Both Benoit's doctors and her family knew that her survival hinged on which came first: donor lungs or complications from the procedure.

It took almost a week, but a set of donor lungs did finally become available, and, six days after having her lungs removed, Benoit underwent a transplant surgery and awoke with new ones. The revolutionary procedure was a success.

Since her lung transplant, Benoit has been undergoing physical therapy to rebuild her strength. Her energy is returning, and she's now able to spend more quality time with her young daughter. "Now we're able to do things I haven't been able to do for a very long time," she told the Post. "I play with her. We go out. Last week, we just went to the aquarium for the very first time."

And isn't that something worth celebrating?

[h/t The Washington Post]

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