Groundbreaking double lung transplant at Northwestern Memorial Hospital credited with saving cancer patient’s life

CHICAGO (CBS) — New lungs were transplanted in a first-of-its-kind procedure at Northwestern Memorial Hospital – allowing a man to live.

As CBS 2’s Asal Rezaei reported Thursday, the man’s life was likely saved just in the nick of time.

“Look at me – I’m smiling and everything,” said Albert Khoury. “You didn’t see this on my face for at least a year.”

Khoury, 54 and a nonsmoker, said his first symptoms of back pain and coughing came at the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. At first, he thought it was COVID-19 – until he began coughing up blood and was diagnosed with stage 1 lung cancer.

As COVID-19 cases surged, Khoury’s treatment was delayed – and his cancer quickly progressed to stage 4.

“His lungs were packed with cancer cells and mucus,” said Northwestern Medicine oncologist Dr. Young Chae.

Multiple doctors told Khoury there was nothing else they could do. With an estimate that he had just weeks to live, his sister saw a news story about lung transplants being pioneered for COVID patients at Northwestern Medicine.

Doctors there said cancer is usually considered a complication for transplant surgery. But because the cancer had not spread to the rest of Khoury’s body, they believed he could have a successful double transplant.

Khoury said waking up from surgery was like a dream.

“‘You got new lungs – you’re cancer free’ – I’m like shaking my head,” he said.

A first for the doctors who performed the procedure means hope for many more patients like Khoury.

“Because Albert’s treatment was so successful, we are now developing a new set of protocols for treating lung cancer patients at Northwestern Medicine,” and Dr. Ankit Bharat, chief of thoracic surgery at Northwestern Medicine.

With almost 25 percent of cancer-related deaths being connected to lung cancer, the doctors said their work on cases like Khoury’s is just beginning.

“They’re like my guardian angels,” he said. “They didn’t give up on me.”

Friday will mark six months since Khoury got the life-saving surgery. Doctors are happy to report that his lungs are still working perfectly, with no signs of any cancer left in his body.

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