Retired nurse receives Northwestern Medicine’s first successful lung-liver transplant at the same hospital where he once worked
Born in the Philippines, Patricio Collera moved to the United States and worked as a Northwestern Medicine nurse for several years. On Aug. 24, he received the call that organs were available. Thanksgiving Day marks three months since receiving the life-changing news.
Chicago, IL – Northwestern Medicine surgeons have successfully performed the health system’s first successful combined lung-liver transplant. The patient, 63-year-old Patricio Collera of Vernon Hills, Ill., is a retired nurse who worked at Northwestern Memorial Hospital for several years before being diagnosed with interstitial lung disease and nonalcoholic liver disease, which caused scarring of the lungs and liver cirrhosis. Less than 10 days after being added to the waitlist for new organs, Collera received the call on Aug. 24 that a new lung and liver were available. Thanksgiving Day marks three months since Collera received the lifechanging news, and he’s grateful to those who helped give him a second chance at life.
“Without my transplant team and donor, I wouldn’t be here today,” said Collera. “Being the first Northwestern Medicine patient to successfully receive a combined lung-liver transplant will be my legacy, and it’s even more special receiving my new organs at the same place where I once worked as a nurse.”
Born in the Philippines, Collera trained to become a nurse and moved to the United States in 1988 with his family. For 25 years, he worked as a PICC line nurse, including two years at Northwestern Memorial, where he inserted catheters into veins for medications, fluids, nutrition and blood transfusions. In 2017, Collera developed a terrible cough, and by 2019 his breathing was so bad that he relied on supportive oxygen 24/7 and had to stop working.
“My life was miserable. I had to drag 50 feet of tubing and oxygen tanks with me everywhere I went. One tank would only last 30 minutes, so I’d have to bring two tanks with me to the grocery store,” said Collera.
In February 2022, Collera was evaluated for a lung transplant, and testing showed his liver was fibrosed by 75 percent. This meant, Collera would also need a liver transplant to withstand the transplant medications he’d be on for the rest of his life.
“I immediately sent messages across the country to top-tier transplant centers and was informed that a lung-liver transplant wasn’t possible due to my age or their team’s lack of experience. One doctor told me, ‘Don’t do it – you’re going to die,’” said Collera. “But when I turned to Northwestern Medicine, I started crying tears of relief when they said, ‘Yes – we can do it.’”
Collera was listed for a double-lung and liver transplant on Aug. 15, and by Aug. 24 he received the call that a single-lung and liver were available. Even though he was listed for a double-lung transplant, the team encouraged him to take the organs.
“A lung-liver transplant procedure is very rare. To date in the United States, only ten have been performed in 2022,” said Rade Tomic, MD, pulmonologist and medical director of the Northwestern Medicine Lung Transplant Program. “Patricio was in desperate need of a lung, and we didn’t have much time to keep waiting for a double-lung transplant. The outcomes of a single-lung transplant versus a double-lung transplant are very similar, so we decided to proceed with one lung because it was an excellent match.”
Being the first Northwestern Medicine patient to successfully receive a combined lung-liver transplant will be my legacy, and it’s even more special receiving my new organs at the same place where I once worked as a nurse.
Once Collera was in the operating room, surgeons were in a race against the clock.
“With two different organs, you have to work twice as fast. You can’t start the second transplant until the first is completed and perfect. There’s zero margin of error. Many people are working closely to make this a success: lung team, liver team, anesthesiologists, nurses, perfusionists, donor team, etc. It’s an elegant and closely coordinated dance,” said Ankit Bharat, MD, chief of thoracic surgery at Northwestern Medicine Canning Thoracic Institute. “Patricio’s lung transplant was the fastest one I’ve ever done in my career, and the new lung is working great. In fact, his old left lung, new right lung and new liver are all very happy together.”
“Transplant is the ultimate team sport, and honestly, it’s one of the only fields I can think of that depends on humanity. Somebody has to give up their organs, either in life or in passing, to save someone else – often, someone they don’t know,” said Satish Nadig, MD, PhD, chief of organ transplantation at Northwestern Medicine. “With all the things happening in the world, it’s not only amazing to be able to replace someone’s lung and liver and they go on to live a normal life, but to also know we’re honoring the gift that someone has given up themselves.”
This Thanksgiving, Collera is looking forward to spending quality time with his wife, Evelyn, their children and grandkids. He’s now on a mission to share his story and bring hope to other patients.
“Look at me! No supportive oxygen and I’m free of tubing,” said Collera. “Because of Northwestern Medicine and my donor, I’m home for the holidays and doing well. I will not waste this lung and liver. I will live a good life and do something meaningful with it. Thank you from the bottom of my heart – you let me live.”
For more information about Northwestern Medicine’s lung and liver transplant programs, visit nm.org.