Man suffering from severe lung scarring for three years receives life-saving double-lung transplant at the Miami Transplant Institute
By: Krysten Brenlla
Spending time with family, boating, working, and exercise were Gilbert Machado’s favorite pastimes – especially cycling around Miami with his wife of 38 years.
However, three years ago, the 63-year-old began to experience cough attacks that were impossible to control.
“I’d be fine, talking with my wife. Then I would start to cough, and I couldn’t even catch a breath,” Machado said. “I was drinking almost two bottles of cough medicine a week.”
After seeking care for his cough, Machado was diagnosed with reflux. However, the attacks only got worse with time. One day, while Machado was at UHealth – University of Miami Health System for a sleep study, a doctor noticed his severe cough and looked at his lung scans.
What the doctor found in the scans was severe idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis – a disease that causes scarring of the lungs.
“The doctor looked at me and said, ‘oh my god, we’ve been barking up the wrong tree,’” Machado said. “They explained to me the new diagnosis, and told me it’s a terminal disease. The only option I had was transplantation.”
After the diagnosis, Machado sought medical treatment at the Miami Transplant Institute (MTI), an affiliation between Jackson Health System and UHealth. While being treated, he continued to live his normal life.
“Pulmonary fibrosis essentially destroys the lungs over time,” said Andres Pelaez, MD, medical director of lung transplantation at MTI. “Unfortunately, it has no treatment, and transplantation is the only option that can change the long-term survival for pulmonary fibrosis patients.”
After years of treatment and continued lung scarring, Machado reached a point where he could no longer get up on his bike, go into the office for work, or stand for longer than a few minutes.
“I was no longer cycling, I was losing weight, the color of my skin was changing, and I was short of breath all the time,” he said. “I needed 10 liters of oxygen to breathe. Because it happens to you slowly, you don’t realize how your body changes. I knew that my lungs could no longer take it, and it was time for the transplant.”
After the MTI team cleared him for transplantation, Machado was placed on the national organ list. Within 16 days, he received the call that they had found a match.
“I was in the shower, and my wife knocks on the door with the phone in her hand – she looked at me with huge eyes,” Machado said. “We left it in God’s hands, and said this is the pair for us.”
On October 9, 2022, he underwent a successful double-lung transplant at Jackson Memorial Hospital, led by Tiago N. Machuca, MD, PhD, director of Jackson’s The Lung Center, and a professor of clinical surgery at the University of Miami Miller School of Medicine.
Machado spent two weeks recovering at Jackson Memorial and Christine E. Lynn Rehabilitation Center for The Miami Project to Cure Paralysis at UHealth/Jackson Memorial before returning home to his wife, children, and grandchildren.
After the transplant, he suffered from pneumonia, COVID-19, and needed his gallbladder removed. Machado also experienced acute rejection, which was treated by his medical team at MTI.
More than a year later, he feels better than ever – he exercises daily, attends Marlins baseball games, goes to dinner, works part-time, drives, goes boating with his family, and travels. Machado follows a strict, post-transplant regimen to help him stay active and healthy, and credits the donor family and the team at Jackson for giving him a second chance at life.
“I wouldn’t know what to say to the donor family that expresses what they’ve offered me,” Machado said. “Because of them, I was able to spend more time with my family.”
“And the team at MTI and at Jackson – they are the absolute best” he continued. “I try to tell them each and every chance I get that they make a huge difference.”