He was rejected by numerous other transplant centers, but in August 2011, Vahal underwent a double-lung transplant at the University of Kentucky — the only possible option to save his life — after spending 55 days on an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine. (3:29). Watch video in new window) »
“We found Dr. Charles Hoopes, and he was a miracle,” the 26-year-old
The story of Vahal’s medical emergency that took him to the brink of
death, began with what he thought was a common case of strep throat – sore
throat, body aches and a fever.
Unfortunately, these common symptoms turned into something more serious
when he began to have joint inflammation, along with severe breathing problems.
Vahal initially was admitted to a local hospital in his hometown of
Cumming, Ga. Doctors were able to solve his joint inflammation issues, but
couldn’t pinpoint the cause of his lung problem.
“The breathing was getting really bad, I was running out of breath
constantly,” Vahal said. “I could barely get out of bed and walk around to do
With no resolution, and his breathing continuing to get worse, Vahal
was transferred to a hospital in Atlanta. Doctors there were surprised by the
severity of Vahal’s condition, finding significant lung damage that had caused
both of his lungs to collapse.
His prognosis was so poor that doctors indicated Vahal had only hours
“They called my parents and everybody in the family and let them know I
had about six hours to live,” he said. “There was nothing they could do.”
Immediately after hearing the news, Vahal’s father contacted several
physician acquaintances to see if they had any advice that might help save his
A few mentioned a process called ECMO, or extracorporeal membrane
oxygenation, a technique that provides oxygen to patients whose heart and lungs
are so severely diseased or damaged, they no longer work on their own. The
adult hospital where Vahal was located did not have ECMO capabilities, but the children’s
hospital next door did. Vahal was quickly rushed there and placed on ECMO.
With ECMO keeping him alive, Vahal’s only option was to apply for
admission at hospitals that could perform a lung transplant in his acute state.
Several hospitals passed on admitting him, until Dr. Hoopes and the UK
Transplant Center team agreed to provide the life-saving procedure.
For Vahal, it was a miracle.
He was transferred to the UK Albert B. Chandler Hospital. Though Vahal
knew his situation was severe, he said Dr. Hoopes assured him the transplant
could be successfully completed.
It was, and today Vahal is alive and getting healthier every day.
“You take breathing oxygen in and out for granted until it happens to
you,” he says. “Lungs are not only very sensitive organs that are extremely
critical, but the effect it has on your body if your lungs are damaged is
He said that as his health continues to improve, he’s having urges to
get up, go outside and enjoy the things that were so difficult for him prior to
“The very first thing I am going to do is go back to my new house and
just enjoy life,” he said.
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Artificial lung technology, also known as ECMO or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation pumps blood through an artificial lung device and back into the body of the patient. Learn more »
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