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A Lung Transplant For Bob O'Rourke

Feb 23, 2011

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Reported by

Joe Palca

After a nine-month wait, Bob O'Rourke has a new lung.

I reported on Bob's situation last summer. At the time, he was tethered to an oxygen tank, struggling to breathe. I got to know him in 2009, three years after he learned he had idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis.

It's a dreadful disease. Your lungs fill up with scar tissue, and don't work right. You have a constant feeling of being out of breath.

The "idiopathic" part of the name means doctors don't know what causes the disease, although some new research suggests it may have something to with premature aging of lung tissue.

There are no effective therapies. The only thing that works is a lung transplant.

Bob's disease was under control until last April. Then, his doctors told him he would need a transplant if he expected to live much longer. The former head of communications at Caltech put on his best PR face to qualify for an organ. Bob got on the transplant list last summer.

A few days after he was on the list, the transplant center at UCLA called to say a candidate lung was available. He rushed from his home in Pasadena to the UCLA hospital on the other side of town, only to find that the lung wasn't in good enough shape to be used for a transplant. Elation turned to disappointment.

Then nothing. No more calls from the transplant center. For months. Bob, who's 72, said getting a call so soon made it seem as if it wouldn't take a long time for another lung to become available, but that wasn't the case.

Finally, last Friday, another call came. Bob wrote his pal Larry Wilson of the Pasadena Star-News to let him know. The transplant surgery was early Sunday morning. So far, so good. Bob's not out of the woods yet. But for the first time in months, Bob can focus on something other than waiting for the phone to ring.

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