SEATTLE — The first person to get a double lung transplant at the University of Washington is still breathing strong 20 years later.
Ken Price had been living with cystic fibrosis since he was 1 year old. He was the first cystic fibrosis patient at the University of Washington Medical Center to receive a double lung transplant.
In the 20 years since then, Price and his lungs have won tennis tournaments, ridden his bike from Seattle to Portland eight times and run a marathon.
“Without the amazing gift of my donor family, the nurses, doctors, clinicians, pharmacists, I would have been dead 20 years ago,” Price said.
Lungs are one of the most difficult organs to transplant. Only about one in five from deceased donors is viable for transplantation. About 55 percent of patients survive five years post-transplant and a third of them live 10 years.
“To be one of the earliest lung transplant patients, and to survive 20 years with these same lungs, is quite remarkable,” says Kevin O’Connor, CEO of LifeCenter Northwest.
When Price was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis, Pennsylvania doctors told his parents he wouldn’t live past the age of 10. If his life was going to be short, Price’s parents wanted it to be as close to normal as possible. They sent him outside to play and encouraged him to pursue all his interests.
Price was healthy until he got double pneumonia at 13. After that he suffered infections, a decline in lung function and a severe loss of energy. He was told he might live into his late-20s. Price went on to Cornell University, grad school at Stanford, and moved to Seattle to work as an aerodynamicist for Boeing.
That’s when he heard about a heart-lung transplant on a person with cystic fibrosis, at Johns Hopkins. Price was referred to several lung transplant centers across the country, but no one would take him because his case was too high risk.
“I was getting close to the end of my road,” Price said. “I couldn’t work. I was on 24-hour oxygen with no hope of it ever getting better except for the possibility of a transplant.”
Then, the University of Washington Medical Center started its own lung transplant center. Price was placed on their waiting list in January 1993. Six months later, shortly after his 30th birthday, Price received a double lung transplant.
Just three weeks after the transplant Price was out of the hospital running and biking. He got his pilot’s license, started a successful business, lived in a foreign country and earned another advanced degree. He finished his first full marathon on Jan. 11, 2009.
“I have felt fabulous for over 20 years,” he said
Price said he exercises, eats well and gets plenty of sleep, but he mostly credits his lifespan to the doctors who care for him and the family of his lung donor.
“The generosity that they showed by taking the biggest tragedy they could have gone through and having the courage and compassion to help other people out is amazing.”
Before the year ends, he plans to run a half-marathon. He would have done another full, but he is happy to report he has lived long enough to develop knee problems.
“I’m happy to be suffering old-people problems. I never thought that would happen!”