Experts said it's a medical breakthrough that could save thousands of people who die every year waiting for a transplant.
A condition called pulmonary fibrosis was slowly hardening the lungs of 57-year-old Fernando Padilla of Alta Loma. He was tethered to his oxygen tank, hoping for a lung transplant.
"I thought it was pneumonia, I thought it was bronchitis. Nothing ever entered my head that my lungs were messed up," Padilla said. "I couldn't do nothing. I had to have everybody doing things for me."
The longtime construction worker, who helped build the very hospital he was staying in, wanted to do more. He volunteered to be part of a new clinical trial examining the delivery of living lungs.
During transport, the organ was infused with blood and oxygen, allowing them to breathe on their own.
"It maintains the donor lungs outside of a human body on a box in a near physiologic state," said Dr. Abbas Ardehali, the director of the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center heart and lung transplant program.
Rather than wait for a frozen organ to thaw, Ardehali was able to get the lungs to function in Padilla right away. In three days, Padilla was walking. In less than two weeks, he was on his way home.
Lungs are among the most difficult to transplant because of how delicate they are. Doctors said 80 percent of donor lungs are not used because they're in poor health. This technology allows surgeons to clean the airways, infuse medications and repair the lungs before transplantation.
"We are hoping that it will make the patients feel better," Ardehali said. "They will be able to resume their normal lives."
Dr. Ardehali said Padilla will notice a difference in his breathing within the next two months. He also said if this initial trial is successful, it could change the way doctors transplant livers, kidneys and other organs.
Ardehali hopes the technology will expand the donor pool by restoring more potential organs. It's promising, but Padilla knows it would mean nothing without the sacrifice of his donor and his family.
"I'd like to thank him from the bottom of my heart," Padilla said with tears in his eyes.