This is a place where patients go because they've been turned down by others," said Lung Transplant Program Director David Weill, MD. "We've taken on higher risk patients in the last four years than we've ever done before. We're encouraged by the results we're seeing."
The Stanford program evaluates about 200 prospective transplant recipients annually, Weill said, and put about 50 on its list for transplants. The rate of transplantation is three times faster than the national average because of the Bay Area's excellent donor registration rate.
"It gives you a lot of confidence being at a facility with Stanford's experience, reputation and expertise. I'm an alum and I work there, so I know it like the back of my hand," said Ana Stenzel. "We are so grateful that we had this option."
Weill has headed the program since 2006, and instituted its most recent changes. Instead of looking for the most perfect lungs, he eliminated those he knew would not work. "We're aggressive about using those we think will work," he said. "Our patients come to us very ill, with few options. If you are very picky about which lungs you pick, that increases the wait and the threat to survival."
The program also takes an aggressive approach to lung preservation, care coordination, detecting organ rejection and long-term patient monitoring. From the get-go, Weill said, patients receive a full team evaluation that includes surgeons, pulmonologists, nurses, pharmacists, dieticians and social workers. The social workers are vital to pre-operative analysis, Weill said. The team also has two outpatient coordinators who organize and develop plans for postoperative care, when family support is invaluable.
One crucial element in transplant survival is attitude, something that the Stanford team works to identify in prospective recipients. The Stenzels understand very well what's necessary to make it through the difficult operation and post-surgical life with a transplanted organ.
"You have to know the reality but believe things will be okay," Stenzel Byrnes said. "It's not easy to do when you're feeling miserable. But you have to have that gusto, that energy, that will. The doctors are there to help us and serve us, but we are the ones who need to initiate, to follow through."
The Stenzels are stellar examples of what new lungs can mean. They swim—for pleasure and for the fitness that supports their overall health. Post-transplant, they have competed in four consecutive U.S. Transplant Games, both taking home medals in swimming, proving just how fully transplant patients can live.