Lauda was days away from death before lung transplant, say doctors

Doctors who carried out three-time Formula 1 world champion Niki Lauda's lung transplant say his life expectancy without the operation was mere days or weeks

Lauda was days away from death before lung transplant, say doctors

Lauda is recovering in hospital in Austria after undergoing surgery at the start of the month having fallen ill while on holiday, and is expected to make a full recovery.

Marco Idzko, head of AHK Vienna hospital's division of pulmonology, explained: "Mr Lauda suffered from a so-called haemorrhagic alveolitis. This is an inflammation of the alveoli [air sacs inside the lungs], which has been accompanied by bleeding into the pulmonary tissue and respiratory tract."

After he was taken ill, Lauda received immunosuppressive therapy, which led to "a significant improvement in the respiratory situation", but the 69-year-old was then affected by acute lung disease.

"This ultimately leads to the destruction and loss of functional lung tissue - and the patient is no longer able to absorb enough oxygen through his lungs," said Idzko, who added such a scenario carries a high mortality rate.

With further drug therapy options limited, Lauda had to be given mechanical ventilation in the intensive care unit.

"Unfortunately, after 10 days in intensive care, because of a critical oxygen supply, therapy escalated," says cardiologist Gottfried Heinz.

"We had to perform a mechanical lung replacement, an ECMO - an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation."

At this point, they said Lauda had a life expectancy of only a few days, which resulted in him being listed for a transplant and assigned a high LAS (Lung Allocation Score) that measures the urgency rating according to objective criteria.

"We could assume that he would be assigned a suitable organ within the next few days," said thoracic surgeon Konrad Hotzenecker, who performed the transplant last Thursday with Walter Klepetko and his team.

"The average waiting time in this case is five days."

Lauda was fitted with a new donor lung that his physicians say has settled well into his body.

"The lung has an excellent primary function, so that we were able to remove the circulatory support, the ECMO, in the operating theatre," explained Hotzenecker.

"The graft lung has taken over its function well."

Cardiology director Christian Hengstenberg added:"We can state that the patient survived it excellently and could already be extubated after 24 hours. That means, the tube in the lung could be removed and the patient could breathe spontaneously.

"This is extremely important for us and for the entire healing process as well. We can see that he is fully conscious and that all the institutions are functioning properly.

"Everything is completely in order. It's a very, very gratifying development."

Patients can leave hospital two or three weeks after this operation, although in Lauda's case this could take a little longer because he was in intensive care.

He is receiving an intensive physiotherapeutic and respiratory programme and drug treatments, but has been given a good prognosis for recovery.

"Our survival rates are over 90% after one year, and around 75% after five years," said thoracic surgeon Peter Jaksch.

Klepetko said the transplant would not reduce Lauda's ability to go back to work, and that he could expect to "return to a life that is normal for him".

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Series Formula 1
Author Charles Bradley
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