New Mayo Clinic facility aims to increase lungs available for transplant

In the coming months, construction will begin on a new facility at Mayo Clinic's Jacksonville campus.

JACKSONVILLE, Fla. - In the coming months, construction will begin on a new facility at Mayo Clinic’s Jacksonville campus.

Mayo Clinic announced a partnership with Maryland-based United Therapeutics Corporation to build and operate a lung restoration center in 2015.

“There’s only one other center right now in the country that’s actually doing what we do,” Windell Smith, Mayo Clinic operations administrator, said. “And that’s in Silver Springs, Maryland.”

The lung restoration center will house a process called “ex vivo lung perfusion,” or EVLP. Dr. David Erasmus, medical director of the lung transplant program at Mayo Clinic, said the lungs are taken from a donor to a restoration center and hooked up to an artificial circulatory system.

“And then they can be evaluated to see if they may be viable or made viable for transplant,” Dr. Erasmus said.

Erasmus said the benefits of EVLP are two-fold. Right now, “borderline” lungs are usually discarded because doctors don’t want to take the risk on a lung that may not be viable. While lungs are undergoing EVLP, doctors can monitor how they would respond inside the body and make a more informed decision whether to proceed with transplant or discard the lungs.

“We can measure the pressure in the lungs, we can measure the pressure in the circulation of the lungs, we can measure blood gas tests on those lungs and we can take X-rays,” Erasmus said. “We can also do some of the procedures that we would do in a living person. We can do bronchoscopies where we look down into the airways of those lungs.”

The lungs can also be treated to improve their condition for transplant.

“One can introduce antibiotics or steroids or other types of therapies such as potentially stem cell therapy,” Erasmus said. “All sorts of interventions might be tried on these lungs.”

Since Mayo Clinic’s program has not yet started, Erasmus said it’s difficult to predict the impact it will have on the number of lung transplants. However, he said a similar program yielded a 25 percent increase.

“We would get more patients transplanted, we may be able to get them transplanted quicker,” Erasmus said. “The more people we transplant, the more likely we are to transplant patients that are a little lower down on the list.”

Jacksonville resident Larry Rawdon received two lung transplants at Mayo. The first, a single lung transplant in 2005; the second, a double lung transplant in 2008 when his body rejected the first lung.

“I still remember being able to take the first full deep breath I’d been able to take in the previous three years,” Rawdon said of his first transplant.

Rawdon, who started showing symptoms of idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis in 2002, was on the verge of death when he received his second transplant.

“You know unless something’s done, you’re not going to survive what’s happening to you,” he said.

Rawdon, a former Broadway cellist, took up the harmonica to strengthen his lungs and diaphragm post-surgery. He now teaches classes to other people in Mayo Clinic’s lung transplant program.

“I used to enjoy more things, but now I enjoy things more,” he said.

Rawdon is planning a Christmas trip to New York City to see his two daughters and recently celebrated his 48th wedding anniversary with his wife, Katie.

Mayo Clinic staff tell First Coast News a date has not yet been set for construction to begin, but it’s expected to start in the fall. Construction is expected to take two years.

© 2017 WTLV-TV


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