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Larry Franklin, a U.S. Air Force veteran who lives in Schertz, recently became the 40th person in a year to receive a lung transplant from the University Transplant Center. No longer tied to an oxygen machine, Franklin is excited that he and his wife will have the chance to visit friends in Germany again, where he served a 4½-year tour of duty.
Franklin, who had his transplant in February, returns to the center on Tuesdays for follow-ups. So far the doctors have lowered his medications every time. Like so many patients, he is benefiting from the experience of the faculty and staff of the University Transplant Center.
“They say with time, the medications will keep going down and the blood sugar and blood pressure will go down,” Franklin said. “My diet will go back to semi-normal. Now it is just follow what the docs at the University Transplant Center tell me to do and be a good boy. They keep a close eye on you. I’m really impressed.”
As its name implies, the center is academic in nature. It is a partnership of the University Health System and The University of Texas Health Science Center San Antonio. The physicians, nurses and other professionals have hundreds of cases of experience.
Strong team with strong history
Experience, combined with a rigorous academic environment, is the key to success. “Our program has been in existence since November of 1987 and has a tradition of commitment for our patients that is well recognized by them and their referring physicians,” said Luis F. Angel, M.D., of UT Medicine San Antonio, the physician practice of the Health Science Center. He is medical director of the lung transplant program. Adult lung transplants are performed at University Hospital, a teaching hospital of the Health Science Center School of Medicine.
Dr. Angel and Deborah Jo Levine, M.D., were the pulmonologists (lung care specialists) on Franklin’s case. Daniel DeArmond, M.D., assistant professor of cardiothoracic surgery, performed the transplant with Scott Johnson, M.D., associate professor, head of the Division of General Thoracic Surgery and surgical director of the lung transplant program. All are UT Medicine physicians.
The team is indeed building on a legacy of achievement. In 1989 the center became the first in North America to do a single-lung transplant for chronic obstructive pulmonary disorder (COPD), also known as emphysema. Later the team was the first to do a single-lung transplant for pulmonary hypertension.
In 2008 the center performed lung transplant No. 300. “Our priority has never been the number of transplants, however,” Dr. Angel said.
The significance of 40 transplants in a 12-month period is not fully appreciated without considering the complex clinical challenges of this type of transplantation.
Franklin and other patients had idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, a thickening, stiffening and scarring of the lungs over time.
Of these 40 patients, three-fourths underwent transplants of both lungs. Three could not breathe on their own before the transplants and had been on artificial life support with ventilators.
Most of the patients had at least some, if not severe, pulmonary hypertension, which is increased pressure in the pulmonary arteries. Changes in these arteries make it difficult for the heart to push blood through them and into the lungs to pick up oxygen. Pressure in the arteries rises. The heart’s right ventricle, which pumps blood to the pulmonary arteries, becomes strained.
“In short, Drs. Angel and Johnson and the team transplanted some very sick patients who simply could not breathe. Despite such severely compromised lung transplant recipients, the team’s survival rate in these critically ill patients was 92 percent,” said John H. Calhoon, M.D., of UT Medicine, professor and chairman of the Department of Cardiothoracic Surgery in the School of Medicine.
New lung and new plans
Franklin, who is 68, and others are living testimonies to transplant excellence. “Before the transplant, I could walk maybe 20 feet without sitting down,” he said recently. “I just left pulmonary rehab, where I walked 20 minutes on the treadmill with no oxygen. Actually it was 23 minutes, but who’s counting.”
Thriving with his new left lung, he has a lot of plans. On March 27 Franklin and his wife, Dee, celebrated their 33rd wedding anniversary and he vowed to return to Germany soon to see friends. The last time they were there was 2004, three years before his lung problems began.
“Being in the military I worked with a lot of professionals,” he said. “I was really impressed with this University Transplant Center. They all worked together. I would recommend them to anybody.”
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The University Transplant Center is a 2008 and 2009 Medal of Honor recipient from the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services and achieves patient outcomes exceeding national averages for kidney, liver and lung transplantation.
Owned by the people of Bexar County, University Health System is a nationally recognized academic medical center. In partnership with the UT Health Science Center San Antonio, it is consistently recognized as a leader in advanced treatment options, new technologies and clinical research.
UT Medicine San Antonio is the clinical practice of the School of Medicine at the UT Health Science Center at San Antonio. With more than 700 doctors – all faculty from the School of Medicine – UT Medicine is the largest medical practice in Central and South Texas, with expertise in more than 60 different branches of medicine. Primary care doctors and specialists see patients in private practice at UT Medicine’s clinical home, the Medical Arts & Research Center (MARC), located in the South Texas Medical Center at 8300 Floyd Curl Drive, San Antonio 78229. Most major health plans are accepted, and there are clinics and physicians at several local and regional hospitals, including CHRISTUS Santa Rosa, University Hospital and Baptist Medical Center. Call (210) 450-9000 to schedule an appointment, or visit the website at www.UTMedicine.org for a complete listing of clinics and phone numbers.