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Lung Transplant Patient Stories

Meet some of our patients whose health and lives were transformed by a lung transplant at UC San Diego Health.

Karen Atri-Mercado

"My life has completely changed. I feel healthier and don't need to spend up to six hours a day trying to manage my lung function."

Karen Atri-Mercado and familyWhen Karen Atri-Mercado and her husband told their three-year-old son that mommy was getting new lungs, he jumped up and down in excitement and covered their faces with kisses. "He was yelling, 'Mommy has new lungs. I love you mommy!'"

Atri-Mercado had been on the transplant wait-list for six months. She suffered from cystic fibrosis, a hereditary disease where the body produces thick and sticky mucus that can clog the lungs.

As a result, she had been hospitalized multiple times. She was on oxygen supplementation 24 hours a day when she was referred to UC San Diego Health for a double lung transplant.

"I went from living a normal life of dancing, working, being married and becoming a mother to coughing up blood, needing surgeries and being connected to a machine to help me breath," said Atri-Mercado. "I was told by my doctors that I needed a double lung transplant or I was going to die."

On an October day in 2013, she got a call from a nurse to head directly to the hospital. "It was the time we had been waiting for." Were the lungs a match for Atri-Mercado? They were. "We were so relieved and grateful."

Eugene Golts, MD, cardiothoracic surgeon, and his surgical team performed the 12-hour double lung transplant procedure. "He came out of the waiting room afterward and told my family the transplant was a success. They were overwhelmed with happiness." Karen's life was saved.

Eighteen days later, she walked out of the hospital without needing any oxygen. "My life has completely changed. I feel healthier and don't need to spend up to six hours a day trying to manage my lung function."

She has also become a mother again through surrogacy. "We are a family of four now and are just truly enjoying life. Every day is a gift. I am super grateful to my family, the doctors and my donor. I hope my story gives hope to other moms who are going on this journey that they can get through it and live life to the fullest, post-transplant."

Ricardo Sandoval

“The doctors and nurses on the transplant team are so compassionate."

Ricardo SandovalRicardo Sandoval was born with a rare congenital condition called situs inversus, where the major organs are on the opposite side of the body. It caused progressive issues with Sandoval’s lungs. “I had a lot of coughing and shortness of breath and needed to be on oxygen. I was hospitalized several times for infections.”

As time went on, Sandoval became critically ill and medication was no longer managing his symptoms. He was placed on the lung transplant list for a year and half. During this time, he received four calls that all ended up not being a match. “I thought my time was done.” But after the fourth call ended, Sandoval received a fifth call the following morning. “I knew in my gut this time the lungs were a match, and they were.” Sandoval received a double lung transplant at UC San Diego Health. “My life forever changed.”

The day after surgery, Sandoval was hooked up to an Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO), similar to a cardiopulmonary bypass machine. It allows the patient to receive oxygen directly into the blood and take out excess carbon dioxide. “The doctors and nurses on the transplant team are so compassionate. As I was hooked up to the ECMO, they carefully guided me around the hospital floor as I walked for the first time post-transplant.”

Now Sandoval can walk easily on his own. “I can do all the activities and functions that most take for granted. I am so much more independent. All I can say is a sincere thank you to Dr. Eugene Golts, Dr. Gordon Yung, Dr Kamyar Afshar, Dr. Timothy J. Floreth and the rest of the doctors and staff involved in my case, including psychologists, physical therapists and nurses. My greatest thank you, however, goes to my donor, who gave me a second chance at life.”


John McNamara

“I’m forever grateful to Dr. Gordon Yung, his lung transplant team and the donor who gave me a second chance.”

John McNamara with airplaneJohn McNamara was an athlete his whole life, so he was shocked when a chest X-ray showed widespread lung disease. He was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis, which eventually made him feel “like someone was holding their hand over my mouth and nose” when trying to breathe. At age 50, McNamara only had months to live. “We started making funeral arrangements. I knew a lung transplant was my only option.”

After an evaluation, John says UC San Diego Health was his top choice for treatment. “The close coordination between specialties, including pharmacy, is what set the program apart.” He was put on the wait list, and four days later, he received the call that changed his entire life.

Now 12 years post-double lung transplant, John travels the world with his wife, visits transplant patients at UC San Diego Health to provide encouragement, and -- with four other UC San Diego Health lung transplant recipients -- started the Lung and Heart Transplant Foundation to support families in need. “I’m forever grateful to Dr. Gordon Yung, his lung transplant team and the donor who gave me a second chance.”


​Chris Shilling

"I'm beyond grateful to Dr. Golts and Dr. Afshar and the donor. They saved my life and gave me the opportunity to grow old with my wife."

Chris Shilling on his wedding day Chris Shilling after his lung transplant

Clint Shilling describes his decline in health at 41 years old as "like being hit by a freight train." He was diagnosed with cystic fibrosis. Two years later, his lung function was only 12 percent and he could barely take five steps without being out of breath. Determined to get married, Clint and his fiancé said their vows with his oxygen tank, named "the dinosaur," standing next to them.

A year later, he received a double lung transplant, a day he considers his second birthday. He was off oxygen three days post-surgery. "I'm beyond grateful to Dr. Golts, Dr. Afshar and the donor. They saved my life and gave me the opportunity to grow old with my wife."


Erinn Hoyt

"I feel that there is no greater way to pay tribute to my donor and donor family than to continue to compete and make the best I can out of my second chance at life and my new lungs."

Erinn Hoyt

When Erinn Hoyt graduated from San Diego State University in 2012, she walked across the stage with a portable intravenous (IV) device hidden under her robe. She had spent the past 10 days in the intensive care unit on a ventilator and was on the transplant list for new lungs.

“I finished my finals in my hospital room and was discharged the day before my graduation,” said Hoyt. “Nothing was going to stop me from getting my diploma.”

Hoyt was born with cystic fibrosis, a progressive, genetic disease that causes persistent lung infections and limits the ability to breathe over time. She grew up with a disorder that caused a chronic, severe cough, so it seemed ironic when she found her passion — swimming.

Read her story


Serena Ochoa

"I would not have been able to get through this without my family's support, the incredible medical team at UC San Diego Health and Lifesharing.”

Serena Ochoa in hospital after heart transplant Serena Ochoa walking a dog

When Serena Ochoa was rolled into the operating room she was "calm and at peace." The school teacher had spent the past four years tethered to an oxygen tank after being diagnosed with a rare lung disease known as LAM. Her condition progressed so quickly that she gasped for air while talking and her lung collapsed 22 times.

She was put on the transplant wait list. "When I finally got the call that there was a lung for me, I started hyperventilating." Her right lung was transplanted and the diseased lung was donated to science. "I am now walking my dogs, doing chores and learning how to live a new normal. I would not have been able to get through this without my family's support, the incredible medical team at UC San Diego Health and Lifesharing – a Donate Life organization. Every day I thank my donor, and I am determined to share my story to raise awareness about the importance or organ donation."

​Appointments & Referrals

We welcome questions about our program, as well as new referrals and self-referrals. Our program works closely with your current physicians to provide continuity of care and a team approach.

For more information or to refer a patient, call 858-657-5050.

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