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 after receiving the surgery at Northwestern Medicine in June. She joins Albert Khoury, 54, who successfully received the operation at Northwestern in 2021.
Lung transplants for patients at this stage would usually be a ‘complete ‘no-no’, explained Dr Ankit Bharat, Northwestern’s chief of thoracic surgery, said. But, luckily for Mr Khoury and Ms Ameli, their cancer did not spread beyond their lungs.
This is a rare characteristic for stage 4 lung cancer. It allows the transplant to fully remove the disease, making the pair perfect candidates for the operation.
Lung cancer is one of the leading killers of Americans, with the disease-causing around 120,000 deaths each year. An estimated 240,000 cases will be diagnosed in 2023.
Mr Khoury received his transplant in September 2021. A non-smoker, he worked as a cement finisher for the Chicago Department of Transportation in early 2020 when he started to suffer back pain, sneezing, chills and coughing up mucus.
He initially thought he had Covid. He knew something worse was occurring when he called his doctor after he began coughing up blood.
Mr Khoury was later diagnosed with stage 1 lung cancer, but the pandemic meant he could not immediately start treatment.
Within months, it had grown to stage 2, and despite several rounds of chemotherapy, his cancer continued to worsen, eventually reaching stage 4.
‘Doctors at other health systems told me there was no chance for survival,’ Mr Khoury said.
Then his sister saw a news story about lung transplants being pioneered for Covid patients at Northwestern Medicine and persuaded him to make an appointment.
Mr Khoury’s health was only getting worse when his sister saw a news story about lung transplants being pioneered for Covid patients at Northwestern Medicine and persuaded him to make an appointment.
Meanwhile, the man developed pneumonia and sepsis and was put on a ventilator in the intensive care unit.
As his condition deteriorated, doctors started to consider the operation.
The cancer not metastasizing — or spreading to different areas of the body — made hope of a double lung transplant possible.
A double lung transplant is where both lungs are removed from the recipient, one at a time, and replaced with a donor’s lungs in a single operation.
But using the surgeon’s new technique, they take out both cancer-infected lungs at the same time and then replace them with new ones.
The original transplant technique runs the risk of cancer cells passing between the old lung and the new lung when only one has been replaced.
The doctors had to be extremely careful during the seven-hour operation not to let any cancer cells spill out from Mr Khoury’s old lungs into his chest cavity or bloodstream.
Any cancer cells that spill out could 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 because of Northwestern Medicine. You didn’t see 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, suffered a chronic cough in late 2021.
She was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer when she went to her doctor’s office to investigate the coughing bouts.
Chemotherapy treatment did not help; the hospital suggested she 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. Luckily, my husband refused to give up and pushed for a second opinion.’
Like Mr Khoury, Ms Ameli did not require further cancer therapy after her double lung transplant.
The Northwestern Medical surgeons created a new surgical technique to eliminate the cancer while minimizing the risk of it spreading.
Dr Bharat said: ‘This innovative technique involves putting the patient on full heart and lung bypass, delicately taking both cancer-ridden lungs out simultaneously along with the lymph nodes, washing the airways and the chest cavity to clear the cancer, and then putting new lungs in.’
Northwestern’s new DREAM program offers other terminally ill lung cancer patients hope.
The outcomes of the program’s first 75 patients will be monitored in new research, called DREAM, to track the results of transplants.