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Local man undergoes successful double lung transplant

June 24, 2013 12:00:00 AM PDT
Lung transplants for cystic fibrosis patients have been in the news lately after a 10-year-old Pennsylvania girl won her legal battle to a get a transplant. Her story brought to light the continuing issue that there aren't enough organ donors.

Treatments for genetic diseases, such as cystic fibrosis, have improved so much, more patients are living much longer. But their lungs do wear out and sometimes unexpectedly.

Even at a young age, 22-year-old Jake Bigley of Bradbury wasn't going to let cystic fibrosis slow him down. He was an athlete with two older sisters to keep up with. Despite limited lung function, Jake was determined to go away to college and succeed.

"He'd go out to do something and run out of breath and one of his buddies would throw him on their back and say, 'I'll get you back to the house.' So it wasn't an easy road for Jake, but Jake had set an intention that he was going to graduate in four years," said Jake's mother, Elaine Bigley.

And he did. But after graduation, instead of starting a new chapter in life, Jake's lungs started to deteriorate rapidly. He was on his last few breaths.

"I think he had days at best," said Dr. Rajan Saggar at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center.

The Bigley family and all their friends took to an online campaign to raise organ donation awareness. They created "Team Jake" t-shirts and they prayed. They knew for Jake to live, loved ones of someone who had just died would need to make a heart-wrenching decision.

"They've obviously lost a loved one and you're trying to introduce a difficult concept at a difficult time," said Saggar.

Jake was placed on an ArterioVenous ECMO machine. It was his last resort. It would only keep him alive for five to seven days. When the transplant team got the call, he was on his fifth day.

Jake received two lungs from a young donor. He underwent a four-hour double lung transplant on Sunday at the Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center. Less than 24 hours after surgery, Jake now has 500 percent more volume in his new lungs.

"Thank you does not even begin to say enough. We hope one day they can meet him," said Jake's father, Tom Bigley.

Through this experience, both of Jakes' sisters have registered to become organ donors.

"I'm sure there are many Jakes out there and if there were something to happen to me, I would want to be able to give that other person their life back," said his sister, Lauren Bigley.

The sisters say they can't imagine their family without their little brother. While a lung transplant is not a cure for cystic fibrosis, Jake's lungs are expected to remain healthy.


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