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Transplant Center reaches lung transplant milestone

Jan. 31, 2019, 9:48 AM

Andy Bolden, second from right, is Vanderbilt Transplant Center’s 500th lung transplant patient. Here, he’s with, from left, Matthew Bacchetta, MD, Eric Lambright, MD, and Ivan Robbins, MD.
Andy Bolden, second from right, is Vanderbilt Transplant Center’s 500th lung transplant patient. Here, he’s with, from left, Matthew Bacchetta, MD, Eric Lambright, MD, and Ivan Robbins, MD. (photo by Susan Urmy)

by Matt Batcheldor

Alabama resident Andy Bolden spent much of the last five years on the couch, having difficulty doing something many people take for granted — breathing.

Thanks to a lung transplant on Nov. 18, 2018, he can breathe normally again. It was a landmark for Bolden and the Vanderbilt Transplant Center — the center’s 500th lung transplant.

“I’ve got two new lungs,” Bolden marveled. “I breathe like a little kid.”

Bolden suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), a progressive lung condition that makes breathing difficult. He said he smoked as a younger man and worked in steel mills.

The heat and the smoke from the plant “really did a number on my lungs,” he said.

“I was living on medication. It was no quality of life — just living to be living.”

Two days after Bolden’s operation, he was walking around his hospital room. He spoke recently from an apartment near Vanderbilt, planning all the things he wants to do with his two new lungs that he couldn’t when he was couch-bound.

“I’ve got some grandchildren and I didn’t get to go and play with them,” he said. “Now I’ve got another chance to do it — stuff I didn’t get a chance to do.”

Bolden said the process to get the transplant took about a year, and he was on the waiting list for lungs for five months. He said his twin sister, Amy Allen, helped him though the process. Their parents are deceased and he is single.

“Vanderbilt is a top-notch facility,” he said. “It’s a God blessing that you’re able to do stuff like that. To me it’s just a true miracle. Hats off to some of the finest doctors that I’ve ever met.”

Vanderbilt’s lung transplantation program is one of the oldest in the country and the only one in Tennessee. It was started by James Lloyd, MD, and former U.S. Sen. William Frist, MD.

VUMC performed the Southeast’s first combined heart-lung transplant in 1987 and the first single-lung transplant in Tennessee in 1990. Other milestones include the state’s first double-lung transplant in 1994 and VUMC’s first triple-organ transplant (heart, lungs and liver) in 2000.

Lung transplant patient Andy Bolden with his twin sister, Amy Allen, who helped him through the process.
Lung transplant patient Andy Bolden with his twin sister, Amy Allen, who helped him through the process. (photo by Susan Urmy)

The lung transplant program has grown rapidly in recent years, due to a variety of factors, said Seth Karp, MD, H. William Scott Jr. Professor, chair of the Section of Surgical Sciences and director of the Vanderbilt Transplant Center.

“We’ve been able to widen the indications for transplant,” he said. “We’ve been able to use types of lungs that we previously were not able to use. And we have a research infrastructure now to support the program that we did not have.”

The constant has been a number of longtime clinicians who set the standard.

“Lung transplants are the most difficult transplants that we do for a number of reasons,” Karp said. “The patient selection is very challenging and the postoperative management is also very difficult. The reason we’ve been successful is because we’ve had some terrific surgeons who have been running the program for a long time and they set a very high standard for patient outcomes and excellent clinical care.”

It was on that foundation of excellence that the program continues to expand. Last year, Matthew Bacchetta, MD, MBA, MA, joined the Department of Thoracic Surgery as an associate professor and the surgical director of a new respiratory institute at Vanderbilt University Medical Center that will be launched soon.

The institute will be built with three key components — growing clinical areas, basic science and translational science.

The lung transplant program is also working to expand its outreach to referring physicians.

“This represents a great milestone for our program, one of the oldest in the country, performing our first lung transplant in 1990,” said Ivan Robbins, MD, professor of Medicine and medical director of the Lung Transplant Care Team. “We are excited about the future and to transplanting and helping the next 500 patients.”

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