The Methodist Hospital in Houston, Texas operates one of the largest lung transplant programs in the country; in 2012, the hospital performed 143 lung transplants and boasts excellent outcomes with a 30-day survival rate of 95 percent, one-year survival rate of 83 percent and five-year survival rate of 55 percent.

“Our outcomes are on par or slightly above the national average,” said Director of the Lung Transplant Program Harish Seethamraju, MD.

Many of those lung transplant patients are seamlessly discharged from Methodist to Kindred Hospital-Houston Medical Center, where Dr. Seethamraju and his team oversee their care as they continue their recovery.

“Many of these patients are very complex and have had many interventions done,” said Dr. Seethamraju, whose team sees the patients at Kindred every day. “They require a lot of post-transplant therapy in order to realize the dream of being able to breathe well again. Our partnership with Kindred has allowed us to have direct oversight of the patients, and our team interacts continually with the Kindred nurses and therapists with the goal of returning patients to activities of daily living in an expedited manner.”

“It is a true continuum of care,” said Tiffany Johnson, nurse practitioner for lung transplant at Kindred Hospital – Houston Medical Center. “The physicians manage the big picture while we take care of the day-to-day care as patients work toward their recovery goals.”

Said Ms. Johnson, the Kindred team works with the patients to clearly outline those goals and celebrates successes with them.

“When they blow up their first balloon, we hang that balloon on the wall and we celebrate,” she said. “I tell the patients, their ultimate goal is to dance with me out the door. I had one patient who was discharged while I was on vacation. He came back and said ‘I need my dance.’”

In the past, lung transplant patients were expected to be on complete bed-rest for over a week after surgery, but now, doctors get them up and moving on the same day as their surgery, encouraging faster and more effective recovery, Dr. Seethamraju said. One of the most important advancements in post-transplant care has been an effort to get patients walking while they are still on ventilator support, so they can be more functional while on it, and possibly get off it faster. Vent weaning protocols are different for lung transplant patients than they are for other patients due to special post-transplant considerations, and this is where close collaboration between the Methodist doctors and the Kindred team comes in.

“The Kindred team is organized in such a way to help us meet our goals for our patients’ recovery,” he said.

Procedures that were previously done at the hospital can now be done at Kindred, including dilation, stent placement and bronchoscopy.

Because of advancements in the field, lung transplant has become a viable treatment option for more patients than ever before, changing lives for the better. In the past, many lung disease patients, particularly the older and sicker, were left with few to no options for treatment. Now, many of these patients are receiving transplants and returning to functional lives. Methodist is leading the charge, expanding the criteria to include patients who may not traditionally have fit the transplant profile, and watching them go on to recover at a level similar to their counterparts who might have been younger or healthier before transplant.

Dr. Seethamraju and his colleagues are also conducting groundbreaking research that is set to change the field. Last year, they published a case study showing transplant success in a patient whose own antibodies would’ve traditionally precluded transplant; her body would’ve rejected any available organ. The investigators showed that a monoclonal antibody called eculizumab could be helpful in facilitating successful organ transplant in patients like this.

For Dr. Seethamraju, it’s very rewarding.

“We see them go on to breathe dramatically better and resume their lives,” he said.

He encourages both patients and doctors to consider anyone with end-stage lung disease for transplant.

“There is a hesitation among doctors – they think the waitlist is long and the patients don’t do well, but that’s not true anymore,” he said. “As we have shown at Methodist and at Kindred, there are many people who may not think they are candidates, but they can be.”

Dr. Seethamraju also works with agencies and in the community to encourage organ donation.

“Through advancements in the field of lung transplantation, we are able to optimize the organs we do have in order to do more transplants, but we still need more donors,” he said.

Click here to read Gary's story in his own words; a multiple transplant patient who recovered at Kindred Hospital-Houston Medical Center.Methodist-Kindred Partnership Helps Lung Transplant Patients Thrive