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Springer Spaniel Sunset by Jenna Keefer

Good News: Double lung transplant saves Wellsville visitor from Colorado

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Although Patrick Whitley has dealt with some minor complications following surgery, he is eager to continue his therapy and get back to a full recovery

From Jones Memorial Hospital, pictured is Whitley

 A Colorado man visiting Western NY is grateful to the doctors, staff and Jones family, as well as the UR Medicine system after a life-saving double lung transplant surgery in July of 2023.

A Poor Prognosis

In January of 2022, Patrick (Shon) Whitley was diagnosed with COPD and Fibrosis after working with asbestos and environmental clean ups throughout his adult life. There was significant scar tissue in his lungs at that time but the pulmonologists he spoke with gave him about 12 years before any real damage would start to occur. He was also told that nothing more could be done for him. Mr. Whitley, an admitted avid smoker as well, knew the prognosis from working with asbestos and was prepared for this news. 

Unfortunately, no one predicted how fast his lungs would begin to deteriorate and by July, his lung capacity was fading quickly. While driving through Western NY, he struggled to breath and was quickly admitted to the Jones Memorial Emergency Department and then to ICU.

Great work Dr. Picco!!!!

During his stay, he was put on 3 liters of oxygen and given a grave prognosis. At the current rate of deterioration, he only had about 2-2.5 years to live. However, Mr. Whitley met with local pulmonologist, Dr. Picco, who discussed the possibility of a lung transplant with him, and they decided to get to work.

Fighting Against The Odds

There would be obstacles. Mr. Whitley would need quit smoking immediately. He did. He would also struggle with months of insurance negotiations and red tape, while his lungs continued to get worse. In October of 2022, Shon was admitted to the hospital again with fluid in his lungs. His blood oxygen level at that time was only 76. At that point, it was determined that Mr. Whitley would need to stop working for his own health and safety. His oxygen was increased and he would need to remain on O2 24/7. His prognosis was lowered to just 6 months – year to live.

A Turning Point

On June 16, 2023, Mr. Whitley was admitted again to the Emergency Department at Jones with oxygen levels dropping to dangerous levels. Due to a planned O2 shutdown at the hospital, Mr. Whitley was taken by ambulance to Strong Memorial. He remained in the ICU at Strong until July 7th when the medical team made the difficult decision to fly Shon by medical jet to NYC to await his lung transplant. While his providers were skeptical about the journey, Mr. Whitley was determined.

A Successful Donor

After a successful trip to NY and with his lung capacity at just 12%, Mr. Whitley was placed on the transplant list on July 19. His doctors were concerned that he would need an echmo, before the lung donor was found.

However, a viable match was found just a few days later on July 24th. On July 25th, Mr. Whitley went in for a life-saving 13 hour double lung transplant surgery.

Looking Toward the Future

During his time in the hospital, Mr. Whitley made several lasting friendships. He remembers one of the nurses at Jones who sat with him for hours and even brought him a teddy bear after her shift and was moved by her desire to help, even though she was “off the clock.” He also recalls conversations and friendships forged with nurses, doctors, physical therapists, and housekeeping staff here at Jones Memorial – some relationships that extend through today.

Shon is a dedicated and strong individual who now works out 4x/day to stay strong. While waiting for surgery, his nurses would joke that you could set your watch to his workouts with his incentive spirometer (or flutter machine) – every 15 minutes, like clockwork.

Today, Shon looks forward to spending time with family, going hunting and fishing and working with horses. He is forever grateful to Dr. Picco for giving him this chance and opportunity. Now, he mentors other patients preparing for their lung transplant surgeries or on the road to recovery.

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Essential Element

Organ donation is a critical component of Whitley’s life-saving surgery.

In the U.S., there are more than 115,000 people waiting for organ transplants, including about 9,500 in New York. Those figures far exceed the number of organs donated each year, according to the Finger Lakes Donor Recovery Network.

About 35% percent of eligible New Yorkers are registered organ donors. Nationally, 58% percent of eligible adults are registered organ donors. A donor can save as many as eight lives.

The shortage of organs means very sick patients must wait longer for life-saving surgeries. Sadly, 20 of them die each day before an organ becomes available. Anyone age 16 and older can enroll in the New York State Donate Life Registry:

  • online at https://www.passlifeon.org/;
  • at the Department of Motor Vehicles;
  • applying for health care benefits through the New York Health Exchange;
  • registering to vote; or using UR Medicine’s MyChart patient portal.
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