Woman Lives for 6 Days With No Lungs Thanks to Hero Doctors

Melissa Benoit is lucky to be alive. In a first-ever procedure, the 32-year-old wife and mother had both of her lungs completely removed -- and survived for nearly a week on life support before receiving a lung transplant that saved her life.

Holy crap.

Benoit, who was born with cystic fibrosis, already had weak lungs and suffered from bacterial infections on and off for three years. Last February, her health took a drastic turn for the worse when she was diagnosed with swine flu in addition to the bacterial infection. By April, she could barely take a breath due to mucus and blood filling her lungs.

Her infection grew resistant to the strongest antibiotics, and eventually she suffered from septic shock. At the end of April, Benoit's organs started shutting down -- she was on her literal deathbed. 

That's when the doctors at Toronto General Hospital knew they had to take a risk to save the young mom's life. Although it had never been performed before, doctors proposed a procedure that would remove both of her lungs and place her in a coma on a life support machine until donor lungs became available.

The machinery had only been used for patients with lung disease, not as a long-term option to keep someone alive. In this case, though, it was certain death or a long-shot attempt at life. 

With her family's blessing, doctors put her in a medically induced coma and removed both of her damaged lungs. She was then placed on life support machinery so high-tech, the hospital referred to it as "the most sophisticated life support possible for heart and lungs," according to The Washington Post. A small artificial lung gave oxygen to her blood and removed carbon dioxide, while another device circulated her blood. 

She survived on life support for six days before donor lungs finally became available. Doctors performed a successful lung transplant -- and Benoit is still on the road to recovery. 

While she could barely walk last spring, she's now able to keep up with her 2-year-old daughter Olivia. "Now we're able to do things I haven't been able to do for a very long time," she told The Washington Post. "I play with her. We go out. Last week, we just went to the aquarium for the very first time."

The Canadian doctors are being hailed as heroes for saving Benoit's life. Although the surgical team had discussed performing the procedure for years, this was the first time they'd actually executed it.

And now, thanks to the insane advances in medical technology we've made during the industrial age, we know a human can live without lungs. Imagine that. 

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Christina Stiehl is a Health and fitness staff writer for Thrillist. Follow her on Twitter @ChristinaStiehl.