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Rare double lung/liver transplant saves woman with cystic fibrosis

January 19, 2012 12:00:00 AM PST
A young cystic fibrosis patient too sick to even stand or brush her hair gets a chance to live due to a rare double lung and liver transplant. Local doctors took extraordinary measures to save this brave teen.

Before, most cystic fibrosis patients didn't live past their 20s. Although medical advances are helping these patients survive longer, eventually many with this devastating genetic condition will need a lung or liver transplant. One young Las Vegas woman needed both.

Despite four hours of breathing treatments every day, 19-year-old Jennifer Golden excelled in sports. But cystic fibrosis started to rapidly steal her breath away. The genetic condition fills her lungs with thick, sticky mucus.

"I've spent my whole life coughing and trying to breathe and trying to catch my breath. And now that's not an issue," said Golden.

That's no longer an issue thanks to a double lung and liver transplant that took place at UCLA Medical Center.

The surgery took 23 doctors, nurses and staffers 13 hours to perform. The complicated surgical endeavor poses many challenges. But in Golden's rare case, the genetic condition was also attacking her liver.

The United Network for Organ Sharing says before Golden, only 44 of these operations have been performed in the United States.

"Most patients I think with her disease are denied transplant because of the complexity of doing that type of operation and the limited number of available organs," said UCLA transplant pulmonologist Dr. David Ross.

But the head UCLA's lung transplant program said no one on Golden's team would give up on her. After two long years of struggling to hang on, the organs became available.

"In their tragedy they saved my life," said Golden. "My donor is my hero."

While her lungs and liver will be disease-free, cystic fibrosis will continue to affect her digestive system and pancreas.

But Golden is a fighter. Four weeks after surgery, she walks a mile a day.

What does she want to do the rest of her life?

"It's hard to answer that question because I never really got a chance to think about what I wanted to do. It was always day by day. Now I can think about a future," said Golden.

Golden and her family hope her story will help raise awareness for organ donation.

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