The life of a Huntington Beach man was saved after undergoing the country’s first minimally invasive double lung transplant operation.
Frank Coburn, 57, has had trouble breathing for years. With previous doctors diagnosing him with asthma, no medication has helped his case. Then, in March 2020, he received more tests and was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, a type of interstitial lung disease.
This was unfortunate news for Coburn, who said he soon discovered that people only have about two to five years to live after such a diagnosis. In the coming months, Coburn’s oxygen levels dropped significantly and he had to be connected to oxygen part-time.
Last December, Coburn contracted COVID-19, which made matters worse.
“After I got COVID, I was literally attached to my oxygen full time within 24 hours because I could not keep my oxygen levels above 90,” Coburn told The Epoch Times. ‘I would have these cough spasms that would last between 45 minutes and an hour and a half, where it was really bad.
A few times in the middle of the night when I was going to cough downstairs, I wondered if my wife would kill me on the floor. Getting close to death … it’s scary to say the least. ”
Coburn said his pulmonologist, who originally diagnosed his lung fibrosis, was really pushing his insurance company to send him to Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles because of the lung transplant program.
That, Coburn said, changed everything.
‘He firmly believed that I should be [Cedars-Sinai’s] lung transplant program, and I’m so grateful, ”he said. “I can tear up when I think about how grateful I am for several people along the way, but this doctor was one who really pushed to make sure I got to Cedar-Sinai.”
Coburn underwent numerous tests in February to determine if he would be eligible for a lung transplant. After learning that he was capable, he was placed on the lung transplant list on March 10th.
On March 15, he received a call that a donor had some lungs available.
His operation was performed on March 16, and his surgeon finally decides to proceed with a new technique that has been developed with minimal intrusion in Germany. This was the first time the procedure had been completed in the United States.
“A typical lung transplant is done through a mussel incision with or without the support of a heart / lung machine,” said Coburn’s surgeon, Dr. Pedro Catarino, told The Epoch Times. “Frank’s operation was performed by means of bilateral mini-thoracotomies without any support from a heart-lung machine.
“The mini-thoracotomy technique is technically demanding and requires special instruments that are minimally invasive,” he said. Catarino is the director of aortic surgery at the Smidt Heart Institute in Cedars-Sinai.
The surgeon said the new minimally invasive technique would now be the standard at Cedars-Sinai, although some patients still require a larger incision.
He said Coburn was a good candidate for the operation because of his good health before contracting lung disease.
“We think this technique will really benefit older, debilitated patients who would otherwise have struggled after a standard lung transplant,” Catarino said.
According to Coburn, it was decided on the operating table to use the new technique. He only realized a few days later, when he came out of the fog of the operation and looked down and wondered where his incisions were. They were so small that it was difficult to locate, he said.
Coburn also said he is very grateful to the donor and their family for giving him the gift of life and that he was able to stay with his thirty-year-old wife and two daughters.
“I’ve always been a donor, but boy, did it really bring home what it means and how big it is,” he said. ‘I was just one person who helped this donor live, you know? Their heart probably helped someone else, and their eyes could save someone else’s sight; it’s just a wonderful thing. ”
Not only does he feel happy to have the new lungs, but Coburn said the team at Cedars-Sinai, from the surgeon to the nursing staff to the support staff, have all done a phenomenal job.
Coburn said life after surgery was good, and that the biggest change for him is to take another deep breath without enduring a coughing fit.
“I can breathe better than I did 20 years ago,” he said.