Unapproved device buys time for new pair of lungs

This handout photo provide by the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center, taken March 5, 2014, shows Dr. Christian Bermudez of the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center checking patient Jon Sacker, who was being treated with an experimental device called the Hemolung that acts like dialysis for lungs. Doctors credit the experiment with buying Sacker time to improve enough to undergo a lifesaving double lung transplant later that month. (AP Photo/University of Pittsburgh Medical Center)

PITTSBURGH (AP) — An Oklahoma man is slowly gaining strength at a Pittsburgh hospital with a second set of transplanted lungs in a procedure that was possible only through a device that until now hasn’t been used in the U.S.

The Hemolung essentially works like dialysis for the lungs, cleansing a patient’s blood of carbon dioxide. The 33-year-old John Sacker was near death at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center. Cystic fibrosis destroyed his lungs and a severe infection caused his body to reject an initial set of transplanted lungs.

Doctors feared they couldn’t get him strong enough to get another lung transplant but decided to gamble on the unapproved Hemolung. One of the devices was found in Toronto and brought to Pittsburgh, and Sacker improved to the point that in mid-March he got a transplant. Sacker calls the machine a lifesaver.

The Hemolung has been approved for use in Canada and Europe. Its maker, ALung Technologies Inc., is currently planning the stricter U.S. testing required by the Food and Drug Administration.

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