• By Dana Sparks

Sharing Mayo Clinic: Defying the odds with heart-lung transplant

April 8, 2018

Aryn Clark needed a heart-lung transplant, but the wait was almost sure to be a long one. Advanced technology that did the work of her heart and lungs during that wait kept her healthy enough to be ready once transplant organs became available.

Aryn Clark was born with two holes in her heart, a condition known as ventricular septal defect. A pediatric cardiologist in Milwaukee told Aryn's mother the holes would close on their own over time. Throughout her childhood, Aryn didn't have any heart problems. She was even a cheerleader in middle school.

But around her 18th birthday, in the summer of 2011, Aryn started to get sick — so sick that she had to abandon her plans to go to college to study graphic design.

"I could barely breathe," Aryn says. "I felt like I was going to pass out all the time."

Those symptoms were the beginning of a prolonged medical saga for Aryn that led her to Mayo Clinic and an extended hospital stay. There, advanced therapy called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) helped keep her alive for nine months while she waited for a combined heart-lung transplant.

John Bohman, M.D., medical director of the ECMO program at Mayo Clinic's Rochester campus, led Aryn's care during her hospital stay. He credits Mayo's model of teamwork for seeing her through to a successful transplant.

"A prolonged and ambulatory ECMO run without complications used to be unfathomable," Dr. Bohman says. "To be able to safely guide Aryn through this long journey required an enormous effort from our entire team, including ECMO specialists, perfusionists, nurses, pharmacists, surgeons, critical care providers, anesthesiologists, physical therapists, lab techs and operating room staff."  Read the rest of Aryn's story.

This article originally appeared on the Sharing Mayo Clinic blog.