Tresckow man first in Pa. to receiving "breathing lung" transplant

Jill Whalen, Standard-Speaker, Hazleton, Pa.
·3 min read

May 5—Thomas Puskar is breathing much easier following a lung transplant — the first of its kind in Pennsylvania — he received at Temple University Hospital.

"My oxygen level is really, really good and I am feeling much better," said Puskar, 62, of Tresckow.

Puskar was the first person in Pennsylvania to receive a "breathing lung."

Temple University Hospital's new device, called the TransMedics Organ Care System, keeps organs functioning and "breathing" after removal from a donor. The portable equipment keeps organs in an environment that mimics the human body.

"Normally an organ is good for three or four hours," Puskar explained. "The TransMedics system is like an incubator for an infant. It keeps warm blood and oxygen flowing into it to keep it alive. It's the coolest thing."

According to information from Temple, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration expanded the use of the organ care system to include donor lungs that are sometimes deemed unacceptable because they are too far to transport by traditional means in a cooler.

The device gives the harvested organs more time, and thus, allows more people to receive organ transplants.

"Temple is able to serve a high volume of lung transplant patients, but tens of thousands of people in the U.S. are currently in need of lifesaving organs," said Dr. Yoshida Toyoda, chief of cardiovascular surgery at Temple and Puskar's surgeon. "The hope is that advances in technology like the OCS Lung System will eventually afford more patients the opportunity to receive an organ transplant."

Puskar said he began to feel ill toward the end of 2019. He was admitted to the hospital for three days for what doctors believed was severe influenza.

"I went home and I was starting to feel all right. Not quite right but I was doing OK," he said.

He decided to spend a week off from work in order to recover as best he could.

And then it hit him again.

Puskar said he went to an urgent care center.

"My oxygen was so low that they called the ambulance" and admitted him to a hospital, he said.

Tests revealed that he had pulmonary fibrosis in his left lung. The disease damages and scars lungs, making it difficult to breathe and leaving the sufferer more open to infections.

Doctors told him he would need a lung transplant.

His medical team referred him to Temple University Hospital in the beginning of March 2020.

He was on a high dose of steroids and other medications and needed eight liters of oxygen a day.

In September, Puskar received the call that would save his life: Temple had a lung waiting for him.

"I was in a daze at first," he said. "I called my daughter, we got together, and boom! I was gone. That was it. I was in the right place at the right time."

The operation lasted about six hours and Puskar recovered at the hospital for two weeks.

"My surgeon, Dr. Toyoda, is one of the top doctors," he said. "I was blessed. The entire hospital staff is wonderful."

Puskar is grateful, too, to his donor.

"I'm still trying to write a letter to her family," he said. "I still honestly don't know what to say."

Puskar said he feels so much better since the transplant. He no longer needs oxygen and he's able to enjoy his grandkids.

"They're able to hang out more with Pop-Pop, their buddy," he said.

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