California doctor gets new lungs and liver at Northwestern after damaging treatment for advanced cancer

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Northwestern surgeons successfully performed a combined lung and liver transplant on a patient with advanced lung cancer, a first for the hospital and likely a first for the country.

Dr. Gary Gibbon got his new set of lungs and liver in September at Northwestern Medicine after he suffered major damage to the two organs while he was treated for stage three lung cancer.

“I’m honored to be sitting here next to these two distinguished surgeons who saved my life by performing a double lung and liver transplant when it was determined that there were no other options for me,” Gibbon told reporters on Thursday at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, talking and laughing with his doctors.

Gibbon, able to breathe on his own, celebrated both his 69th birthday and being cancer-free for six months on Wednesday.

“I’ve been a physician for decades, and we tend to be conservative at times with our treatment plans, which is why the enormity of the science that went into this procedure is awe-inspiring to me,” Gibbon said.

Dr. Gary Gibbon, center, checks his own lungs with a gifted stethoscope at a news conference on Thursday at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Dr. Ankit Bharat, left, and Dr. Satish Nadig performed a combined liver and lung transplant on Gibbon last September.

Dr. Gary Gibbon (center) checks his own lungs with a gifted stethoscope at a news conference on Thursday at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Dr. Ankit Bharat (left) and Dr. Satish Nadig performed a combined liver and lung transplant on Gibbon last September.

Kaitlin Washburn/Sun-Times

Normally, patients in Gibbon’s condition before the transplant would be in hospice nearing the end of their life, his doctors said on Thursday.

Gibbon, a pulmonologist from Santa Monica, California, underwent chemotherapy, radiation and immunotherapy at a California hospital last year after his diagnosis. He ended up in the intensive care unit and learned that the immunotherapy had permanently destroyed his lungs and irreparably damaged his liver.

“As a pulmonologist, I never imagined I’d ever need a lung transplant — let alone for lung cancer,” Gibbon said. Pulmonology is the medical specialty focused on the respiratory system.

A first-of-its-kind program at Northwestern became Gibbon’s only chance at survival. He came to Chicago in September and he got his new lungs and liver from the same donor.

The program, called Double Lung Replacement and Multidisciplinary Care, or DREAM, was established at Northwestern to help patients who have advanced lung cancer and don’t respond to the usual treatments.

“To our knowledge, this is the first known case in the nation where a patient with advanced lung cancer has successfully received a combined lung-liver transplant,” said Dr. Ankit Bharat, who performed Gibbon’s lung transplant and is the chief of thoracic surgery and director of the Northwestern Medicine Canning Thoracic Institute.

“While my doctors in California had done everything they could,” Gibbon said, “we knew there was only one place in the entire country that could give me a fighting chance, and after speaking with Dr. Bharat, I could see the light at the end of the tunnel.”

Dr. Satish Nadig, left, and Dr. Ankit Bharat during the double organ transplant surgery they performed on Dr. Gary Gibbon last September.

Dr. Satish Nadig (left) and Dr. Ankit Bharat during the double organ transplant surgery they performed on Dr. Gary Gibbon last September.

Provided by Northwestern Medicine

Gibbon, originally from Cape Town, South Africa, worked for 33 years at his private practice in Santa Monica until his recent hospitalization. Last March, Gibbon started coughing and losing weight — a chest X-ray later confirmed he had a cancerous mass on his lungs.

After extensive and aggressive cancer treatments, Gibbon ended up in the ICU last July at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center with septic shock, pneumonia and multiple organ failure.

He was transported to Chicago on Sept. 10 and waited 12 days on the transplant list from his ICU bed at Northwestern Memorial Hospital. Shortly before midnight on Sept. 26, Gibbon got his lungs. He got his new liver in the early hours on Sept. 27.

“This [double transplant] was just off the charts, never been done before. But the most important thing was we had the confidence we could do it,” said Dr. Satish Nadig, the transplant surgeon who performed Gibbon’s liver transplant and director of the Northwestern Medicine Comprehensive Transplant Center.

Bharat and Nadig spent 10 hours working together on the procedure. While his cancer-ridden lungs were replaced first, Gibbon’s new liver was kept alive for 17 hours outside the body in a “liver in a box,” also called liver perfusion. The box pumped warm blood through the organ, which also allowed his doctors to make sure the liver was suitable for transplant.

The Canning Thoracic Institute has performed over 30 lung transplants under the DREAM program, including for several patients with stage four lung cancer and one whose cancer spread from another organ to the lungs.

Dr. Gary Gibbon at Northwestern Memorial hospital last September before he received a combined lung and liver transplant.

Dr. Gary Gibbon at Northwestern Memorial hospital last September before he received a combined lung and liver transplant.

Provided by Northwestern Medicine


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