Imagine having a disease that makes you feel like you are drowning. Imagine being physically exhausted from a one-hour car ride. That was what Bruce Judd’s life was like until he received a new lung, thanks to a partnership between St. Luke’s University Health Network and Temple University Hospital.
An electrician who lives in Nazareth with his wife Stephanie, Bruce never imagined he would need a lung transplant. But last year, a severe bout of diarrhea caused him to lose 16 pounds in 10 days. “It was summer,” he recalls, “and so I just thought it was dehydration.”
However, while at the hospital for observation, the clinical staff noticed Bruce’s oxygen levels were critically low. That’s when the 63-year-old was diagnosed with a life-threatening disease: Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis. IPF causes the lungs to become scarred and tight, making breathing difficult. The cause is unknown, and the only definitive cure is to replace the malfunctioning lung with a healthy donor lung.
Fortunately for Bruce, his pulmonologist, Thomas Zanders, MD, knew exactly what to do. Bruce was enrolled in St. Luke’s partnership program with Temple Health for lung transplant patients and he was connected with Yaniv Dotan, MD, St. Luke’s transplant pulmonologist, and James Mamary, MD, Temple’s lung transplant pulmonologist.
“IPF is a very aggressive and deadly disease. The disease is unpredictable and a transplant in most cases is necessary for long-term survival,” said Dotan. “Our collaboration with Temple allows patients who need lung transplant to receive care here, locally at St. Luke’s, as well as in Philadelphia for the actual surgical procedure and post-operative care. Temple currently conducts the highest number of lung transplants in the U.S. and its surgical team is one of the best in the world. Because of our collaborative approach, the patient has a whole team of experts working with them.”
Over the next several months, Bruce underwent a litany of tests and procedures to assess whether he would be a good candidate for the transplant.
“It is not an easy process, and it’s not for everyone,” said Dotan. “Patients go through an evaluation to make sure they are the best candidates, since the organ donation is limited.”
In total, more than 35 different tests and procedures were ordered over the course of several weeks, most of which were performed about 10 miles from Bruce’s home at St. Luke’s Anderson Campus.
“If I had to drive to Philly for all of those tests, it would have been awful,” recalled Bruce. It wasn’t just the inconvenience of travel time and parking, but the physicality of traveling in his medical condition. Bruce was on supplemental oxygen daily and couldn’t leave home without his tank. Beyond that, being in a car hurt. “I felt every little bump and turn in the road, and the next day, my body would be exhausted. It was so much better to be able to go right down the road to Anderson,” he said.
Another benefit of the strategic affiliation is that Temple regularly takes on some of the most challenging transplant cases, including patients who need to be evaluated and listed for lung transplants very quickly. Working with St. Luke’s, Temple can carry out an expedited evaluation process, which allows qualified candidates to be added to the national waiting list for a donor lung sooner.
The coordination of care Bruce received was a positive point in his experience. Because of the strong relationship between St. Luke’s and Temple, his doctors and care team were in constant communication.
Mallory Scheller, RN, is the lung transplant coordinator and ensured that all of his tests and “to-do’s” were completed in order and on time. Sometimes she and Stephanie would be on the phone two to three times per day discussing Bruce’s care.
And then this past July, after only two weeks on the transplant list, Bruce got a call.
“I was shocked,” Bruce said about receiving notice that a donor lung had become available. “I honestly expected to be on the transplant list a lot longer, but I got lucky.”
He and his wife left that evening for Temple University Hospital and his surgery was performed within six hours.
“It’s a miracle every time,” said Dotan. “I’ve been involved in the transplant world for awhile and it is always an awe-inspiring moment when you get to tell a patient it’s their turn. I couldn’t be happier for Bruce and his family. He was every thing you hope for in a patient–cooperative, highly-attentive and involved–and he stayed positive throughout the process, which helped him tremendously. Mental stamina is important for transplant patients.”
Post-transplant, Bruce is doing well and getting back to normal life. He can now resume evening walks with Stephanie and their border collie, Bailey, and no longer needs oxygen 24/7. He even participated in a two-mile walk this fall to raise funds for Pulmonary Fibrosis through the Wescoe Foundation. His next goal is to return to work; something he has surprisingly missed.
“I’m near retirement, so I never thought I’d say this, but I actually miss going to work!”
Note: This local health news is brought to you in partnership with St. Luke’s University Health Network.