Patients up and about with portable lung

April 2, 2009 With end stage emphysema, the 49-year-old former smoker is waiting for a lung transplant that, in years past, would have meant a life restricted to a hospital bed.

But now there is groundbreaking new technology that allows patients on the waiting list for lung transplants to get out of bed and exercise thanks to a portable artificial lung.

"If it wouldn't be for this machine, I wouldn't be able to get out of bed. Period," Forsyth said. "I wouldn't be able to walk. I'd fall to the ground."

Forsyth is one of the first patients to take advantage of the new artificial lung, which is a huge departure from the older, cumbersome machines that kept them in the bed.

"I think it's a blessing," Forsyth said.

The new device mimics the function of the human lung and uses a specially designed catheter to replace the need to have tubes in the patient while lying down.

Patients can eat and exercise -- an important improvement because it keeps patients' muscles from atrophying.

"If you ain't getting enough oxygen, you can't run, you can't walk and that's what the machine is doing, putting that back in my body and helping me," Forsyth said.

Doctor: New Tech Could Help Transplant Survival

But convenience is not the only advantage, according to Dr. Bartley Griffith, chief of cardiothoracic surgery at the University of Maryland Medical Center. It can help the transplant patients' chances of survival while they wait.

"I know in my heart that a stable group of patients like ours treated in this way will come through transplantation with a much higher success rate," Griffith said.

For Forsyth, it's all about keeping his body ready for the transplant he awaits.

"All I need is a bit more exercise and can keep on going, but I won't have to start at the beginning," he said.

Looking Forward for Medical Technology

The next step? Griffith says it is to develop a smaller device to function essentially as a portable life-support machine.

It's a step that is closer than you might think.

"We think [we're] pretty ready for human trials in the very, very near future," Griffith said.

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