Feb. 18 2009/CTV.ca News Staff – Last summer, 16-year-old Katie Sutherland was on the brink of death, her lungs failing, her heart working far too hard. She needed a lung transplant quickly but no good matches were available.
Then, her doctors at Toronto’s Hospital for Sick Children decided they would take a risk and try something that had never been performed before on a child. They hooked her up to an external artificial lung system.
The procedure allowed Katie to stay alive for an entire month — long enough for suitable donor lungs to become available. Today, with new lungs in her chest, Katie is resuming a normal life, thanks to the bold decision of her doctors.
The device the doctors used was the German-made Novalung. The device takes over much of the job of circulating her blood, filling it with oxygen and filtering out the carbon dioxide. Unlike older artificial lungs which were run by mechanical pumps, Novalung is powered by the patient’s own heartbeat.
Just two years ago, an Ontario mother became the first adult patient in North America to be hooked up to a Novalung, when doctors at Toronto General Hospital helped Yen Tran stay alive long enough for a heart and lung transplant.
Like Tran, Katie was suffering from pulmonary hypertension, a rare disorder in which the blood vessels in the lungs constrict, forcing the heart to work much harder than normal.