More than 33 percent of lung transplant recipients reach the 10-year threshold, according to 2019 data from the Scientific Society of Transplant Recipients, and clinical leaders of the Duke Lung Transplant program say their growing program continues to care for patients who demonstrate increasing longevity.
Scott M. Palmer, MD, MHS, transplant pulmonologist and Daniel F. Fortin, MD, Distinguished Professor of Medicine, says an “increasingly large number” of patients who have received organs at Duke continue to do well a decade or more after the procedure. Palmer, who is also vice chair for research in the Duke Department of Medicine, leads an NIH research project designed to help prevent lung transplant patients from experiencing chronic lung allograft dysfunction.
“We have built a successful program over several decades that is one of the national leaders in volume,” Palmer says. “Some of our patients are now 20 to 25 years past the procedure. It’s quite exceptional, quite wonderful, to celebrate those individuals and their success.”
Among the Duke recipients demonstrating exceptional longevity is Gary Klausner, a New York resident who underwent a double-lung transplant in 1998. Because of complications associated with cystic fibrosis (CF), he received his transplant at a relatively young age—a factor that probably contributes to his longevity, Palmer says.
A Patient's Story
Klausner was diagnosed with CF at age 10. He was an active child and relatively healthy young adult who managed his CF symptoms with medication and exercise. Though he experienced infections and CF-related physical limitations, he was well known within the CF community as an activist who promoted research and treatment innovations.
At age 33, the soon-to-be father and NASDAQ trader, experienced extreme weakness and dyspnea that forced him to leave the trading floor. He was diagnosed with Burkholderia cepacia complex, a bacterial infection that exacerbated CF symptoms and threatened his life.
“Until that point, I had been relatively healthy. But it was like falling off a cliff,” Klausner remembers. “I experienced a dramatic decline.” Following his hospitalization, Klausner returned home but required IV antibiotics and needed 24/7 supplemental oxygen. “That’s when our focus shifted to considering transplant,” he says.
Acceptance at Duke
Although several programs declined to assess Klausner because of the Burkholderia cepacia infection, he was accepted by Duke in the late summer of 1998. The move to Durham allowed Klausner to participate in respiratory conditioning and to ensure fast access to organs when they became available.
Wanting to be with his wife while she gave birth to their twin boys, Klausner delayed the move, a decision that introduced additional risks. But double-lung transplant was performed in December that year; he returned home the following spring.
Advocate for patients
Since his recovery 25 years ago, Klausner continues to advocate and raise awareness for organ donation. “I decided at the time that if I came out of this, I would do my part to raise awareness,” says Klausner who remembers a time when he could not find a local network of supportive patients with the shared transplant experience.
Now a successful professional in the health care industry, Klausner is a regional celebrity in Long Island. He participates in regional races and athletic events, was featured in Newsday on the 15th anniversary of his transplant, and has been the subject of several print and electronic news features promoting his transplant awareness activism.
Klausner’s long-term goal is to set the standard for longevity after transplant. “I told my son that I want to be the Tom Brady and Michael Jordan of transplant. I want to be the Greatest of All Time.”
This G.O.A.T. will celebrate his 25th anniversary as he has his first 24 – promoting organ donor awareness.