Doctor with cancer gets unprecedented liver, double-lung transplant from Northwestern Medicine

California man now celebrating 69th birthday cancer-free

Denise Dador Image
Friday, March 29, 2024
Santa Monica doctor doing well after historic triple transplant
A simultaneous transplant for both lungs and a liver had never been performed before.

CHICAGO -- It's a medical story that's off the charts. Northwestern surgeons have successfully performed a combined lung-liver transplant on a patient who had advanced lung cancer.

And the patient is a doctor himself.

As a pulmonologist, Dr. Gary Gibbon listens to other people's lungs, not usually his own.

"Sounds beautiful," he said.

It was a far different sound than a year ago, when the Santa Monica, California physician was diagnosed with stage 3 lung cancer. After undergoing chemo, radiation and immunotherapy at the University of California, Los Angeles, Gibbon learned the treatments had led to irreparable damage, not only to both his lungs, but to his liver, as well.

"I was told that sadly and terribly, there were no other options for me, and I should be considering palliative care or hospice care," Gibbon said.

Then, his wife remembered hearing on the news about the Double Lung Replacement program at Northwestern Medicine, known as the DREAM program.

"We got him on a plane, a medical flight here, a four-hour flight from California to Chicago," said Dr. Satish Nadig, director of the Northwestern Medicine Transplant Center.

Within 12 days of being on the transplant list, two lungs and a liver became available from one donor. Doctors say patients with the most dire conditions are given priority.

"The sicker you are, the higher you are on the list in general. And so Dr. Gibbon was as sick as they come," he said.

SEE ALSO: Lung cancer patient discharged from Northwestern Medicine hospital after lung transplant

After the team procured the organs, Gibbon entered what would become an historic surgery.

"On a scale of one to 10, this was off the charts, never been done before," Nadig said.

It was a first for a patient with active cancer. As anticipated, surgery to remove all the cancerous cells from the chest cavity and his airways and to replace the diseased lungs went well into the night.

"So the question was, how do we keep the liver alive while we completed the double lung transplant part of the procedure?" said Dr. Ankit Bharat with Northwestern Medicine Canning Thoracic Institute.

The team used a perfusion machine, which pumped body temperature blood into the liver to keep it alive for 17 hours -- long enough for surgeons to complete the triple transplant.

"All three of us sort of knew we rewrote the textbooks in medical history at that time," Nadig said.

Six months after the landmark liver and lung procedure, Gibbon is cancer-free.

He's celebrating his 69th birthday - and being a newlywed.

The remarkable medical achievements were only made possible thanks to organ donor awareness.

"I'd like to express gratitude for my donor and the family for the gift of life," Gibbon said.