Melissa Benoit has lived with cystic fibrosis her whole life – and if it weren’t for a daring double-transplant procedure, the condition would have claimed her life.The 33-year-old mother came down with influenza which led the bacteria in her lungs to spread throughout her body until she reportedly succumbed to septic shock, causing her organs to totally shut down despite life support systems.
Cystic Fibrosis is a genetically inherited condition in which the lungs and digestive system become coated in sticky mucus. It can cause problems with breathing and digestion from a young age. Over many years, the lungs become increasingly damaged and may eventually stop working properly.
A defect in the CFTR gene causes cystic fibrosis (CF). This gene makes a protein that controls the movement of salt and water in and out of your body’s cells. In people who have CF, the gene makes a protein that doesn’t work well.
The faulty gene means that some cells struggle to move salt and water across the cell wall. This, along with recurrent infections, can result in a build-up of thick, sticky mucus in the body’s tubes and passageways as well as very salty sweat.
To be born with cystic fibrosis, a child has to inherit two copies of this faulty gene – one from each of their parents. Their parents will not usually have the condition themselves, because they will only carry one faulty gene and one that works normally.
If both parents carry the faulty gene, there’s a 25% chance that each child they have will be born with cystic fibrosis.
As her condition worsened, her doctors conferred with the family and made a risky decision: they would remove the cause of the sepsis by removing her lungs altogether.
For six days, Melissa was kept alive via an artificial heart, kidney, and lung machine until she was strong enough to receive a new pair of lungs from an organ donor. The successful procedure is currently being called a world-first.
“They pulled me back from the dead,” Benoit said as she thanked her family during a news conference on Wednesday. “Foremost I have to thank my donor and my donor’s family. Without them, whatever procedure the physicians would have performed would have been useless.”
Her recovery has been swift, and she is walking and playing with her child once again.