5.1 min readPublished On: June 19, 2024

Double Lung Transplant Feels Like a Miracle Right Here in Central Florida

Danny Sams was diagnosed with Pulmonary Fibrosis and given two to three years to live. Pulmonary Fibrosis is a general condition that presents itself as progressive scarring of the lungs impeding the intake of oxygen. The condition cannot be reversed, but in some cases when caught early enough, the progression may be slowed.

Initially, Danny was not aware that he might be a candidate for a lung transplant. Many doctors, even nephologists and pulmonologists, do not know the capabilities of the University of Florida Health Lung Transplant team in Gainesville or the qualifications for being a suitable candidate for consideration for lung transplantation.

Patients are often surprised to learn that a lung transplant may be an option for them. There are several conditions which a patient must meet, not the least of which is a willingness to exercise regularly and make healthy dietary changes. A patient might be disqualified from a lung transplant if he or she is an active smoker, is severely debilitated or does not have a strong care provider plan for support throughout the process and follow up.

Danny was added to the lung transplant list and quickly made it to the top. No longer first-come-first-served, since 2015 the transplant lists at UF Health Shands are curated based on severity of need and updated continuously.

On January 31, 2023, a call from a nurse at UF Health brought the news Danny was waiting for — a donor match had been found.

“I cannot put into words the thoughts going through my head before the surgery knowing I was going to be given a new set of lungs but that someone had to die for that opportunity,” Danny says. “I cannot possibly begin to put it into words.”

Danny’s anxiety lessened somewhat as the UF medical team prepared to operate.

“As they wheeled me into the operating room it looked like something out of Star Trek,” Danny recalls. “It looked like I was on a spaceship with all the incredible equipment they have in there. Seeing all of this, I felt a lot better knowing I was in the hands of the best professionals in the world.”

Medical Miracles

A double lung transplant sounds like some space-age medical miracle, but it is just the next step in the evolution of transplant surgery. What is miraculous about Danny’s transplant is not that he got two new lungs or that a matched donor became available when he needed those lungs.

Double lung transplant surgery has been around for the last three decades. The procedure, in fact, is quite similar to a single lung transplant performed twice. The patient is put on a machine that temporarily breathes for him while the surgeons remove and replace each lung, one at a time.

“The actual miracle is not the procedure itself but the fact that we’ve improved the technique to make transplant a viable option for a broader range of patients,” explains Dr Amir Emtiazjoo, UF Health Shands Lung Transplant Program medical director. One key element to a successful lung transplant, according to Dr. Emtiazjoo, is having the team that harmoniously and effectively works together and with the patient to make this miracle happen.

There are approximately 74 hospitals in the U.S. that can perform a double lung transplant with varying levels of expertise. “It’s about the expertise of the whole hospital, from the pre-care coordination to surgery to intensive care recovery and carrying on to post-care coordination,” explains Jamie Burrows, BSN, CCRN-K, UF Health Shands Lung Transplant Program manager. The operation is the crucial part, but patient selection and post-operative care are important for the best outcome.

“You need the whole orchestra, not just the piano,” Dr. Emtiazjoo says.

Some lung transplant programs like the one at UF Health Shands can offer a higher level of expertise because they handle a larger volume and more complex cases, improving their skills all the time. “At UF Health Shands, we do between 50 and 100 lung transplants a year compared to some other programs that only do 10 or 20,” Jamie says.

The Recovery Side of the Journey

Waking up in the ICU after the extensive surgery, Danny found himself surrounded by life-supporting machines. The road to recovery, which involved relearning how to breathe with new lungs and regaining strength, was challenging. The team at UF Health Shands played a crucial role in his rehabilitation. They assisted him by gradually increasing his walking distances.

Despite the challenges, Danny expressed gratitude for the incredible care he received, as well as the unwavering support of his wife, Kim, who stood by him through every step of the journey.

On March 1, 2023, Danny achieved a significant milestone when he walked out of UF Health Shands under his own power with his new lungs, a testament to his resilience and the success of the transplant.

The journey is ongoing and as Danny looks towards the future with continued courage, he remains forever grateful to the team at UF Health Shands who provided him with the gift of life.

The Miracle Starts with Organ Donors

Danny’s story might have had a different ending if a pair of healthy lungs had not become available when he needed them. Currently, more than 5,000 patients in Florida alone wait for life-saving transplants.

“I want to express the importance of people becoming organ donors. I had my life saved by one. I can’t think of a better gift to the world than heroes like that,” Danny concludes.

Despite facing limitations post-surgery, Danny embraces life with gratitude and determination, vowing to live each day to honor his donor.

“Not a day goes by that I don’t think of it. But I realize that these are my lungs now,” Danny says. “I don’t even know who he or she is to this very day. I have to say that I am forever grateful for the ultimate final gift they gave to the world. I intend to honor them and live life to the fullest.”

To learn more about becoming an organ donor, click here.




About the Author: Christine Andola

Christine Andola
With a bachelor’s degree in communication from the State University of New York, College at New Paltz, in 1990 Christine embarked on a blind journey to building a career. She moved through teaching in the inner city public schools, reporting for a weekly newspaper, writing user manuals and technical documentation at a software company, lobbying and public relations at the state level for national associations and marketing for professional services firms. Christine’s writing portfolio includes everything from newspapers to grant proposals. She has developed web content, written blogs, ghost-written professional journal articles and drafted ad copy. From technical writing to lifestyle feature pieces, Christine lives by the value of words. She enjoys learning about the people around her and sharing information in a way that resonates with readers.

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