Double-Lung Transplant Recipient Finds Hope at National Jewish Health

Dean Hutto doesn’t mind wearing a medical mask around crowds to stay healthy. As a recent recipient of a double-lung transplant, he considers it a small price to pay for the gift of his new lungs.

“They’re precious to me,” Dean said. “If I have to wear a mask sometimes to protect them, I don’t mind.”

Dean, who lives in Highlands Ranch, Colo., underwent a double-lung transplant in September 2014. He’s been through quite a journey since he was first diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis in 2011.

Pulmonary fibrosis is the replacement of normal lung tissue with a scar; in some patients, progressive scarring makes it increasingly difficult to breathe. (“Fibrosis” is the medical term for scarring.) The disease kills more than  50,000 Americans annually. In patients with progressive disease, their best hope is receiving a lung transplant —  a precarious option at best.

Dean, for example, had to wait two years on the transplant registry to receive and find a match of lungs of the right size and blood type. Then he had to be ready to go for surgery when the call came from his doctors. The surgery itself took eight-plus hours, followed by weeks and months of therapy and recovery.

Still, Dean considers himself lucky to have received his new lungs and to have found his doctors at National Jewish Health, who’ve helped along the way, as well as before, during and after his transplant surgery.

“Sometimes you don’t realize how sick you’ve been until after the fact and other people talk about it,” Dean explained.

Dean is a former regional sales director for Sirius XM Holdings. Before undergoing the transplant surgery and coming to National Jewish Health, he had suffered from seasonal allergies for several years.

In 2011, Dean was having worse-than-average spring allergies when he went to see his allergist. He went through several rounds of tests and tried several kinds of inhalers, but nothing helped him. His allergist then ordered a chest X-ray. The results came back and his allergist didn’t like what he saw, so he recommended that Dean see a pulmonologist and specialists to help him.

That’s how Dean found National Jewish Health. His team of doctors included Richard T. Meehan, MD, in the Division of Rheumatology; Kevin K. Brown, MD, an expert in autoimmune lung diseases; and Cecile S. Rose, MD, who specializes in environmental and occupational diseases. Dean said his doctors at National Jewish Health also collaborated with doctors and staff at the University of Colorado Hospital. They worked together to find him the best treatments and strategies.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that I was put at the right place, at the right time,” said Dean, who’s originally from Milwaukee but has lived in Colorado for the last 18 years. As a local patient, Dean knew about the reputation of National Jewish Health and was grateful to have to access to the doctors and experts here to help him.

Up until he underwent his surgery, for example, Dean received infusions every four to five weeks. He did this for almost two years, and it worked for a while, slowing the progression of the disease. After the medication stopped working, Dean was placed on the list for transplant surgery.

Since Dean had his transplant surgery he’s suffered one setback —  a bad virus back in December 2014. This is another reason he doesn’t mind wearing a medical mask around large crowds today to keep himself healthier.

Overall, however, he’s doing well, and his lung capacity has improved with each testing he’s had post-surgery. He no longer needs to carry supplemental oxygen with him.

Dean is married and has four sons, and he continues to recover at home with his family’s support. This includes rehab sessions, practicing yoga and participating in a harmonica-playing support group, part of his pulmonary therapy, called the Harmonicats. He also volunteers through Donor Alliance —  the group that helped him to receive his new lungs.

He has good days and bad days but remains optimistic, and said the care at National Jewish Health saved his life.

“I could not have asked for better treatment,” Dean said. “It’s been an incredible journey from start to finish, and it’s still going for me.”

 

Learn more about how you can support patients at National Jewish Health