USF doctors help celebrate lung transplant milestone at TGH

There were tears of joy from 65-year-old Jeanette Ebaugh, who recently received the 500th lung transplant from Tampa General Hospital (TGH).

Ebaugh celebrated the successful procedure, alongside her husband and the team of health professionals who saved her life, during a press conference March 8 at TGH.

“I have my life back,” Ebaugh said. “This is the best I’ve felt in more than three years. Now I can breathe on my own without the help of oxygen. I feel very lucky.”

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USF Health pulmonologist Dr. Kapil Patel, assistant professor of medicine and director of Lung Transplantation and Interstitial Lung Disease at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, with Jeanette Ebaugh, who received the 500th lung transplant at Tampa General Hospital.

The team that prepared Ebaugh for the lung transplant, provided surgical and post-surgical care and continues to carefully monitor her progress is led by Kapilkumar N. Patel, MD, assistant professor and director of the Lung Transplantation and Interstitial Lung Disease, Division of Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine in the Department of Internal Medicine at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, and Christiano Caldeira, MD, associate professor and division chief of Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery in the Department of Surgery at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine.

Tampa General is the 26th hospital in the nation to perform 500 or more lung transplants.

Dr. Patel and Dr. Caldeira were at the press event to share the TGH’s milestone and the success of the Lung Transplant Program – now the 26th hospital in the nation to perform 500 or more lung transplants.

“We started the transplant program at TGH in 2002,” said Dr. Patel, the USF Health pulmonologist who is medical director for the lung transplant program at TGH. “Since then, we’ve completed 35 to 40 transplants every year. Lung transplants are the longest and some of the most complex surgeries, but we’ve been able to complete them successfully.”

Ebaugh, from Port St. Lucie, Florida, was diagnosed five years ago with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis, an incurable lung disease, at another hospital, and was told she had five years to live. But, in 2015, doctors at TGH gave her hope and placed her into the TGH’s lung transplant program waiting list for a single lung transplant. After 22 months, TGH found Ebaugh’s organ donor match. Her surgery took six hours.

“Thank you to the donor and their family,” said Ebaugh, as she got emotional. “Without their generosity I would not be here. Thank you to my doctors and the wonderful staff at TGH. Thank you for giving me a new life.”

TGH partnered with LifeLink Foundation to find the organ donor. The non-profit organization is a locally federally designated agency that handles the recovery of organs for transplantation in 15 counties in west Florida.

“Ebaugh is one of the success stories,” said Betsy Edward, senior public affairs coordinator for LifeLink Foundation. “But we still have 120,000 patients on the national organ transplant waiting list hoping for their own successful outcomes. We want to reiterate that without the generosity of another family’s organ donor, Ebaugh would not be here today. So, I encourage others to help make a similar donation to save lives.”

From left: Dr. Christiano Caldeira, associate professor and chief of the Division of Cardiothoracic Surgery at the USF Health Morsani College of Medicine, Dr. Patel and patient Jeanette Ebaugh answer media questions at the press conference.

Dr. Caldeira, who performed the lung transplant on Ebaugh, said TGH has reached this milestone because of an effective interprofessional collaboration between various health professionals and organizations. “It takes a lot of people to make this a success, and we wouldn’t have been able to achieve this accomplishment without the excellent coordination of the surgical team, TGH’s lung transplant program, Dr. Patel, LifeLink and others,” he said.

TGH has one of the busiest transplant centers in the country, performing transplants in adult lung, heart, kidney, pancreas, liver and pediatric kidney.

Dr. Patel joined USF Health and TGH in 2016 to help lead and strengthen the Lung Transplant Program at Tampa General Hospital while strategically working to create a Center of Excellence for Advanced Lung Disease.

“I wouldn’t have come here if the recipe wasn’t right for success,” Dr. Patel said. who was recruited from Stanford University Medical Center. “The program has such a strong foundation, and it will only get better from here.”

Story and photos by Vjollca Hysenlika