More than 33,000 organ transplants were performed in 2016. The lungs and the liver are two organs that are commonly transplanted, but they are rarely transplanted at the same time. But one man at Cleveland Clinic needed both organs and got them.
A year ago, Robert Fealy was on oxygen 24/7 and could barely breathe.
"It got to where I'd walk halfway to the bathroom, lean on the counter and stop and catch my breath," Fealy said.
Fealy was born with a genetic disorder known as A1AD, which damaged his lungs.
"I saw him deteriorate so quickly," said Jeanne Fealy, Robert's wife.
He needed a lung transplant, but Fealy's liver was also in bad shape.
"We felt that if we did his lung, his lung transplant alone, that there was a very high chance that the liver might fail," Kenneth McCurry, MD, Surgical Director of Lung and Heart-Lung Transplantation and Staff Cardiac Surgeon at Cleveland Clinic explained.
So, doctors at the Cleveland Clinic decided Fealy would need a lung and liver transplant. The surgery is tricky, both organs must come from the same donor, and the liver has to sit on ice while doctors transplant the lungs. Only a handful of these transplants are performed every year.
"It’s a very complex operation to do both, very difficult," McCurry said.
But after 12 hours of surgery, Fealy had two new lungs and a new liver.
"They took me in, and it was done," said Fealy. "I woke up a day later, and I felt great."
He was even singing five days after his transplant. His wife says he never gave up.
While his wife refers to him as her Superman, Fealy says the real hero is his donor.
"I'd like to say I'm thankful to my donor every day," Fealy said.
And thankful he received a gift that gave him a second chance at life.
McCurry says many insurance companies won't cover a lung and liver transplant because it's considered a risky procedure. He says patients have actually died because their insurance providers wouldn't cover the surgery.
Contributors to this news report include: Julie Marks, Producer; Cyndy McGrath, Supervising Producer; Gabriella Battistiol, Assistant Producer; Roque Correa, Editor.