A Michigan man whose double lung transplant operation was stopped earlier this week after a plane carrying donor organs crashed and killed all six people on board has received a second set of lungs, doctors announced Friday.
Meanwhile, divers on Friday recovered the plane's flight voice recorder from Lake Michigan near Milwaukee.
Milwaukee Police Capt. Christopher Domagalski said divers found the voice recorder, but it hasn't been reviewed yet. He said he had no more information.
Keith Holloway, spokesman for the National Transportation Safety Board, said he wasn't aware the recorder had been recovered, but said it was possible. Divers identified a debris field containing much of the plane's wreckage on the lake bottom Friday, he said.
The plane was bringing members of the University of Michigan Health System's organ transplant team back with the first double lung scheduled for transplant.
Surgeons at the university's hospital canceled the operation, leaving the 50-year-old man in critical condition in the intensive care unit.
He remained in critical condition Friday following a more than seven-hour surgery to transplant the second double lung that became available. That operation began Wednesday night and ended early Thursday, the health system said.
"We are relieved that we were able to do this transplant and give this man another chance for life," Dr. Jeffrey Punch, director of the Division of Transplantation at University of Michigan, said in a statement. "Our friends that died in the crash would have wanted us to go on with our work."
The patient, whose name wasn't being released at his family's request, already was prepped for surgery, with his chest cut open and his lungs exposed to the air in the operating room, when the initial operation was stopped Monday evening, doctors said.
Moved up on waiting list
Because of the aborted surgery, the patient was moved even higher on the waiting list for a double lung transplant, said Dr. Andrew C. Chang, surgical director of lung transplant and assistant professor of general thoracic surgery.
"He walked in the hospital breathing on his own," Chang said. "After the operation, he was in critical condition and on a ventilator."
Chang said the man's lung allocation score went up after he was put back on the waiting list Tuesday morning.
Officials learned late Tuesday that another set of donor organs was available. The team of surgeons, nurses, transplant coordinators and specialists for the second operation was led by Chang and Dr. Christine Lau, assistant professor of general thoracic surgery.
"If he had not received a transplant in a timely fashion he would have died," Chang said during a news conference Friday.
The patient was on a ventilator after Monday's operation. When he regained consciousness he wasn't told of Monday's crash.
"We did let him wake up," Chang said. "I spoke to him and told him he didn't get the lungs. I'll tell him more when he can handle it."
The patient, a longtime smoker, needed the transplant because of a condition called chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder, the health system said. He had been on the waiting list for a double lung transplant since November.
The patient's family, in a statement released by the health system, said it was devastated and heartbroken for the families of the Survival Flight team.
Killed in Monday's crash near Milwaukee were cardiac surgeon Dr. Martinus "Martin" Spoor; transplant donation specialist Richard Chenault II; Dr. David Ashburn, a 35-year-old physician-in-training in pediatric cardiothoracic surgery; transplant donation specialist, Richard LaPensee; and pilots Dennis Hoyes and Bill Serra.
The second set of organs was flown by chartered plane from an unidentified donor hospital to Willow Run Airport near Ypsilanti. A transplant donation specialist met the plane and transported the organs to the hospital on a Survival Flight helicopter.
Punch said the only people aboard the chartered flight were the pilot and co-pilot.
"The organ came essentially by itself, very safe in sterile packaging on ice," said Punch who expects dialogue in the organ transplantation community about the need for sending teams to other hospitals.
Heavy equipment will be needed to pull the pieces to the surface. Recovery of those pieces won't take place until next week, Holloway told the Detroit Free Press.