It is almost 4,000 miles from Honolulu, Hawaii to Houston and an approximate 8-hour flight. But the trip is not an issue for organ transplant patients who travel great distances for lifesaving care at Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center.
54-year-old Benjamin Calimbas was flown by special medical transport this summer after a case of what then seemed to be pneumonia progressed to respiratory failure that severely damaged both of his lungs. The once very healthy father of two could no longer breathe on his own. He was intubated and on mechanical ventilation.
His son, Russell insisted, "My father had been a very healthy guy with no record of any sort of medical condition. He started having issues with his breathing in February so they had to intubate him. When there was no improvement, they had to put him on ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) to support his heart and lungs."
His healthcare team from Queen’s Medical Center in Hawaii tried everything they could to treat him. With no improvement, the only hope was a double lung transplant. The team started searching in earnest for a transplant center in the contiguous 48 states. However, because of multiple insurance issues, every institution they approached denied admission or the insurance costs were prohibitive, except for Baylor St. Luke's Medical Center in Houston. Dr. Puneet Garcha, Medical Director of Lung Transplantation at Baylor St. Luke’s and Associate Professor of Pulmonary Medicine at Baylor College of Medicine, and Dr. Gabriel Loor, Surgical Director of Lung Transplantation at Baylor St. Luke’s and Associate Professor of Surgery at Baylor College of Medicine, ordered an immediate transplant evaluation.
“In addition to respiratory and kidney failure, Mr. Calimbas was suffering from infection, gastrointestinal bleeding, and physical deconditioning. Every day that he remained on the ECMO device increased his risk of stroke, bleeding, and further complications,” Dr. Loor said. “We felt we could get him strong enough to survive transplant surgery so he spent a month with our ICU nursing staff and therapists before we prepped for a bilateral lung transplant. We were able to secure a donor lung pretty quickly, and his health improved dramatically soon after the procedure.”
"I'm getting better every day now,” Benjamin said as he recuperated in Houston, three months post-surgery. He is cooking his favorite meal, Chicken Adobo and Pancit, and going to physical therapy and occupational therapy every week. “I’m pretty much independent and getting back to normal strength,” he said.
His son, Russell, is a newly graduated nurse and the dramatic downturn his father took was shocking, even to him. "I work as a nurse in the ER back home at Queen’s Medical and I am used to seeing sick people every day but when it came to seeing my own dad in such a vegetative state, it really affected me. Now that he is out of the hospital, I'm really happy that we can go back to the way life was. My dad really missed home, especially his dog, Louie.”
Dr. Loor said that Mr. Calimbas’s prognosis is very good and a testament to “the quality of the critical care here at the transplant program at Baylor St. Luke's, which is really gaining an international reputation for treatment of advanced lung disease and transplant care.”
“I can barely remember how I got to Houston. I am very thankful to Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center for accepting me as their patient and giving me another chance to breathe again,” Mr. Calimbas said.