April 8, 2024

Lung transplant patient, family glad they came to a place where ‘every single person cared’

Mike Boston was turned down by eight hospitals for a double lung transplant, which would be his second, because none believed he would survive the surgery. Finally, doctors at one medical center — VUMC — thought he might.

Double-lung transplant patient Mike Boston and his wife, Kellie. (photo by Donn Jones) Double-lung transplant patient Mike Boston and his wife, Kellie. (photo by Donn Jones)

Mike Boston was down but not out.

He was turned down by eight hospitals for a double lung transplant — which would be his second — that he needed to save his life. Deemed too sick for a transplant, he waited for days in an intensive care unit in Florida for what seemed like the end. Then he was clinging to life aboard a medical jet traveling from Jacksonville, Florida, to Vanderbilt University Medical Center.

Here, an expert, multidisciplinary team would deploy ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) to take over the functions of his heart and lungs, helping him recover to the point where he could receive the lung transplant that would save his life.

Now, receiving physical therapy following his transplant, Boston can tell his own amazing story.

Mike Boston at VUMC following his transplant.
Mike Boston at VUMC following his transplant.

He was born with cystic fibrosis, a genetic disorder that over time destroys the lungs. He knew he would need a transplant eventually, but he had a normal childhood playing sports and swimming, and he avoided major issues with his lungs until his mid-30s. That’s when he caught pneumonia, and over the next five years his lung function became progressively worse.

So, in 2018 he received his first set of lungs at a Florida hospital, and they worked beautifully. “Had five years’ worth of perfect health,” Boston said.

Then, in November 2023, he caught COVID-19 for the first time and went into lung failure. “And then it was a pretty rapid decline from there,” he said.

Mike Boston at VUMC following his transplant.

Boston beat COVID-19, but his body began to massively reject his new lungs.

“By Jan. 1, it was a totally different story,” said his wife, Kellie. “We realized these lungs were done, and they weren’t getting any better.”

She knew he needed a new set of lungs but couldn’t find a hospital that would transplant him. “They felt like he wouldn’t make it through the surgery,” she said.

Doctors at one medical center — VUMC — thought he might, and he flew to Nashville on Jan. 26.

“We transferred him here for an evaluation because he was quite precarious,” said Matthew Bacchetta, MD, MBA, professor of Cardiac Surgery and Biomedical Engineering. “We decided to put him on ECMO as a bridge to transplant to better assess his candidacy.”

He responded well to that intervention for the next five days. Caitlin Demarest, MD, PhD, assistant professor of Thoracic Surgery, came into his hospital room to give the couple the news: “We’ve got the perfect set of lungs.”

“And then she did the magic,” Boston added. Demarest performed his second lung transplant in just over five years.

“It is an extremely difficult pathway, and it is important to note that VUMC is one of the few centers in the world that would even consider such a patient,” Bacchetta said.

Twenty-one hours after his transplant, Boston was breathing room air again, his wife said, and talking with providers who continued to check up on him, even after he left the transplant floor.

“The one thing that I think set Vandy apart from what we’ve seen in the past, and I don’t know how to say this — every single person cared,” Kellie Boston said. “It felt like we were their friends.”

Mike’s anesthesiologist was Frederick Lombard, MBChB, associate professor and chief of Cardiothoracic Anesthesiology.

“The outcome for these high-risk patients is never certain, and we are grateful for every good outcome,” Lombard said. “We focus on what we can control, which includes how we interact with patients and their family members. Our transplant patients frequently comment on the exceptional quality of care they receive here.”

Just days after his transplant, Boston began physical therapy at Vanderbilt Dayani Center, working to regain the muscle he’s lost after more than two and a half continuous months in hospitals.

The Bostons now look forward to reuniting with their children Tytus, 19, and Ella, 15, in their home in Amelia Island, Florida, perhaps in another three months.

“Sometimes, when you take a risk on a patient, it really pays off,” Demarest said. “Mr. Boston is a prime example of that. Despite the risks, and all the things that could have gone wrong, we took a chance on Mr. Boston, and he took a chance on us, and now he gets a third chance at life.”

Boston simply says thank you to his providers. “I can’t say enough. Obviously, you saved my life.”

Mike, Kellie and their children Tytus, on Amelia Island prior to Mike’s transplant.
Mike, Kellie and their children, Tytus and Ella, on Amelia Island prior to Mike’s transplant.