First Time’s a Charm: MGH Performs First Heart-Lung Transplant

For four years, Benard Basant didn’t know what it was like to breathe fresh air. Born with a congenital heart disease that eventually affected his lungs, the 36-year-old Connecticut resident was tethered to an oxygen mask, barely able to keep up with his wife and two young children. Then, on Aug. 5, Basant got his life back when he underwent the MGH’s first combined heart-lung transplant surgery.

Basant received specialized and collaborative care from the MGH Adult Congenital Heart Disease Program and the Heart-Lung Transplant Program. “In order to really give Ben the years he wanted to spend with his family, we had to do something dramatic,” says Ami Bhatt, MD, Basant’s cardiologist and co-director of the Adult Congenital Heart Disease Program in the Institute for Heart, Vascular and Stroke Care. “He was the perfect candidate for this surgery.”

Although the heart and double lung transplant surgery is lifesaving, the frequency of these types of surgeries, which have always been rare, has substantially diminished in recent years, mainly due to a severe shortage of suitable donors. The MGH is the only center in the New England region performing combined heart-lung transplants.

“It’s been a very important addition to our transplant program because this was the final step for us to be able

to provide any type of medical, surgical or transplant care to any patient who has advanced heart or lung disease,” says Todd Astor, MD, medical director of the Lung and Heart-Lung Transplant Program. “Now, we don’t have to refer patients to any other center for this type of care.”

Before his surgery, Basant spent nearly six months hospitalized at the MGH waiting for the three needed organs from the same donor. During those months, Basant says he remained optimistic, never letting his goal of living a full and healthy life out of sight. “I had moments of sadness and I missed my family but in my mind I knew I was here for a better cause,” Basant says. “I knew my time would come.”

Then, in early August, Basant received the call that would forever change his life – a donor match was found. Almost immediately, he was taken to the operating room. “Everything happened so quickly for him,” recalls Basant’s wife, Gaitree. “Everyone calls him the miracle man. It truly was a miracle.”

A team of transplant surgeons – led by Jose Garcia, MD, surgical director of the Cardiothoracic Transplantation and Artificial Heart and Lung Program – spent nearly six hours implanting Basant’s new heart and two lungs. “The heart and lungs are removed from the donor and transferred into the body without taking them apart,” Garcia explains. “Ben did quite well. By the third day he was out of bed. He made it home in less than two weeks.”

Now, three months later, Basant is fully recovered and ready to embark on a new life with his family. “A few weeks ago we went apple picking for the first time,” Gaitree says. “He kept saying, ‘Is this what it feels like to breathe easy?’”

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