Four transplants, one day: Spectrum surgeons successfully pull off unlikely surgeries

Posted at 5:36 PM, Dec 15, 2015
and last updated 2015-12-15 17:36:09-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. – It was a call Rose Black had been waiting to receive for nearly a decade. After all that time hoping and waiting on a list for a new lung, finally, on the other end of the line was someone telling her she would have one.

“It was one of the happiest days I’ve had in 8-and-a-half years,” she said. “I didn’t believe the person that called me.”

Around the same time Rose was celebrating with her family and packing her bags to head to the hospital, three others were getting the same news, and would soon be packing their bags to receive new organs too.

Two donors provided Rose, Charlie Highley, Vlodeck Lukasik and Paul Skarl with desperately needed lungs and hearts. Because the organs had a short expiration date, time was of the essence for doctors with the Richard DeVos Heart and Lung Transplant Program at Spectrum. Perhaps the most amazing part about the procedures, doctors say, was that they were even able to pull them off.

“The first thing that came to my mind was, can we actually make this happen?” said Michelle Lorenz, Administrative Director of the Organ Transplant Program at Spectrum.

The organs lining up with their exact matches, Lorenz says, is purely a coincidence.

“I think it’s rare. But what’s really rare is to be able to pull it off,” she added.

Each operation, doctors say, takes between six and eight hours if not longer and utilizes much of the staff needed for that type of procedure. Charlie and Rose had their operations performed the night of October 4th. Paul and Vlodeck followed the morning of October 5th.

Now tackling recovery – all with tremendous success – the patients are looking forward to the upcoming holiday season. They say they still enjoy recalling the moment they all received the news, and if you ask any of them, the reaction is the same.