Ocean Township Resident: ‘Living Again’

After Double Lung Transplant at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center – New Jersey’s Only Lung Transplant Provider

Ken PapeOcean Township. NJ -- Ken Pape was losing an eight-year battle for his life. Lung disease had left the 66-year-old increasingly weak, short of breath, and unable to do virtually anything.

“Things were looking bleak, to say the least,” says the Ocean Township father and grandfather, who suffered from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease or “COPD.”

But today, Ken feels “amazing” – after receiving a double lung transplant 10 months ago at the Barnabas Health Advanced Lung Disease and Transplant Program at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center (NBIMC), an RWJBarnabas Health facility. The top-performing program is New Jersey’s only lung transplant provider, with very short wait times compared to other states.

“I don’t have enough words for how well it went,” says Ken, whose lung function now exceeds typical healthy levels, at 130 percent of normal. “Every day it gets better.”

Indeed, just three months after his transplant, Ken returned to his full-time job as manager of a large apartment complex. He’s back to driving, doing household chores, and going out with family and friends. “It’s just wonderful to be living again,” he enthuses.

Transplant advantages
Like Ken, many patients with severe lung problems can benefit greatly from this life-saving procedure.

“People with these conditions are in constant distress,” explains Harish Seethamraju, MD, medical director, Barnabas Health Advanced Lung Disease and Transplant Program at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center. “It’s like running a marathon 24 hours a day.”

He advises patients to consider transplantation as early as possible. It can take months for viable organs to become available, and one must be relatively healthy to qualify. In fact, NBIMC helps patients improve their health in preparation for their transplant.

That was the case with Ken, who waited over two years for his donor lungs before turning to NBIMC.

Getting ready
“The dietitian helped me eat healthier and gain weight,” Ken recalls. “I had to take six-minute walks to keep my strength up. That was torture! But it was really important to maintain my position on the donor list.”

Ken also attended NBIMC support groups to stay positive while he waited. “There were times I wasn’t sure I was going to make it all the way through,” he says. “My friends encouraged me, and the doctors and nurses were terrific – they kept me motivated.”

Fortunately, most NBIMC patients have a very brief wait for donor lungs.

“All lungs that become available in New Jersey come to NBIMC first, because we’re the state’s only lung transplant program,” explains Dr. Seethamraju. “Whereas in New York or Pennsylvania, for example, lungs are shared by other transplant centers in their respective states.”

Top-notch care
The NBIMC lung transplant program has outstanding outcomes and is approved by the Center for Medicare and Medicaid Services.

Dr. Seethamraju attributes this success to several factors, including NBIMC’s strong history in heart transplants and other advanced, cardiothoracic procedures. He points to unique expertise in post-transplant drug regimens that prevent organ rejection but minimize side-effects.

“We follow each person closely and fine-tune their immune-suppression medications based on how they’re doing. The goal is to use as little of these drugs as possible.”

In addition, he cites the program’s small size and one-to-one attention. “Patients don’t get lost in a huge system of doctors and nurse practitioners. We know their families well; they’re like our family.”

Ken agrees: “The staff seems so connected on a personal level. I didn’t feel so much a patient but a partner. Other than saving my life – they were and still are terrific!”

For more information about the Barnabas Health Advanced Lung Disease and Transplant Program at Newark Beth Israel Medical Center, an RWJBarnabas Health facility, call 1-888-NJLung1 or visit lungtransplantnj.com.