TODAY   |  March 21, 2013

New procedure gives hope to lung transplant patients

A revolutionary surgery at UCLA Medical Center may change the way the medical community performs transplants. NBC’s Dr. Nancy Snyderman reports on the procedure that involves keeping transplant lungs “breathing” outside the body.

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>>> we are getting a first look this morning at a revolutionary surgery out of the ronald reagan medical center that helped one man breathe again. dr. nancy snyderman has the story. good morning, nancy.

>> wait until you see this video. this is amazing. a man, fernando padea part of a national trial that has the potential to change the way we do organ transplants .

>> reporter: at 57, he walks two miles every day, something that just months ago he was unable to do. diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, an incurable lung disease in 2010 , his only hope was a double lung transplant .

>> all i could do is sit down and watch tv.

>> reporter: tethered to oxygen 24 hours a day , his wife said he had trouble doing the smallest things.

>> pick up his plate, put it in the sink from here to there, it was a struggle.

>> reporter: but in november, doctors at ucla medical center found a match and fernando became the first patient in the united states to undergo a surgery that placed breathing lungs into to his chest. the former construction worker who helped build ucla's hospital now entrusted his doctors to help rebuild him.

>> if anyone had transported lungs in a new way, let's do it. i'm all about going forward.

>> reporter: rather than arriving on ice, the organ was transported in a box kept warm and pumping from donor to recipient.

>> it makes intuitive sense instead of putting an organ on ice, you want to keep it with the blood circulating, want to keep it giving oxygen, keep it warm.

>> reporter: today the grandfather of ten has a renewed energy that keeps him motivated.

>> i feel good, you know. you know, i used to walk around this right here, taking about 40 to 50 minutes to walk it. and now i can walk that block in 15 minutes .

>> perhaps mr. padea said it best, why put an organ on ice and wake it up when you can just keep it warm and pumping and normal and then just put it in a new body? and i think he probably said it better than anyone. this is a worldwide trial. and i think it's going to change transplant medicine.

>> it is a sight to behold.

>> i was nervous about it. i said i wonder if these images will gross people out. it's almost beautiful to see it.

>> those lungs are so beautiful. what a lucky man.

>> that's really great.

>> truly blessed.