Left to Right: Dr. Satish Nadig, Patricio Collera and Dr. Rade Tomic | Provided Photo

A retired nurse from Vernon Hills received Northwestern Medicine’s first successful lung-liver transplant at the same hospital where he once worked.

Patricio Collera, 63, of Vernon Hills, is a retired nurse who worked at the Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago for two years.

Collera was born in the Philippines and trained to become a nurse.

He and his family moved to the U.S. in 1988 and worked as a peripherally inserted central catheter (PICC) line nurse.

At Northwestern Memorial, Collera inserted catheters into patients’ veins for medication, fluids, nutrition and blood transfusions.

Collera developed a cough in 2017 and by 2019 had to rely on supportive oxygen 24/7 because his breathing worsened, forcing him 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,” Collera said.

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Collera had been diagnosed with interstitial lung disease and nonalcoholic liver disease, which caused scarring of the lungs and liver cirrhosis.

He was evaluated for a lung transplant in February and testing showed his liver was fibrosed by 75 percent.

Collera would need a liver transplant to withstand the medications he would be on for the rest of his life.

He was added to the waitlist for a double-lung and liver.

Nine days later on August 24, Collera received a call that a new single-lung and liver were available.

Collera contacted top-tier transplant centers across the country, but he was turned down and told that a lung-liver transplant would not be possible due to his age and because of teams’ lack of experience.

“One doctor told me, ‘Don’t do it – you’re going to die,'” Collera said.

“But when I turned to Northwestern Medicine, I started crying tears of relief when they said, ‘Yes – we can do it.'”

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A lung-liver transplant procedure is very rare, with only 10 having been performed this year in the U.S.

“Patricio was in desperate need of a lung, and we didn’t have much time to keep waiting for a double-lung transplant,” Dr. Rade Tomic, pulmonologist and medical director of the Northwestern Medicine Lung Transplant Program, said.

“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,” Tomic added.

Dr. Ankit Bharat, chief of thoracic surgery at the Northwestern Medicine Canning Thoracic Institute, said the timing of the procedure is crucial.

“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, et cetera. It’s an elegant and closely coordinated dance,” Bharat said.

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“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,” Bharat added.

Collera’s procedure marks Northwestern Medicine’s first successful combined lung-liver transplant.

He is no longer on supportive oxygen and plans to spend time with his wife, children and grandkids for Thanksgiving.

Collera wants his story to bring hope to other patients.

“Thanks to whoever donated. I promise you, I will not waste your lung and liver. I will live a good life, do something with my life. Because without your organs, I wouldn’t be here anymore,” Collera said, tearing up.