The last thing Alain Hodak remembered before his two lung transplant surgery was that he had been waiting eagerly in the operating room for a doctor’s call on the hospital’s roof, that his drone had arrived.
That drone carried 1.5 kilometers of lungs into the Toronto downtown, and Hodak enthusiastically agreed to be part of it in September.
A business engineer and drone lover, the 63-year-old Hodak proved to be the ideal patient for the world’s first lung transplant using an unmanned drone completed by the World Health Network (UHN) and the Unitar Bioelectronic.
Lungs traveled from Toronto Western Hospital to Toronto General Hospital on a purpose-built drone — a journey that lasted only six minutes, but could change the future of organ delivery.
And Hodak is proud to be a guinea pig. The Ottawa resident was diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis in 2019 and said it was “unbearable” to try to breathe before surgery.
“Without air, I had about 25 liters of oxygen per minute on an industrial scale, which is more than you can put in. And now I can breathe, and sometimes I wonder about breathing,” Hodak told the News.
Hodak’s condition worsened in early 2021, and his only option was to have a lung transplant. He was placed on a waiting list and rented a condo with his wife in Toronto in June if the donor’s organ was available.
“It’s a race against time,” Hodak said.
Drone delivery experiments are underway
In the meantime, Dr. Lynch is the director of the Toronto Lung Transplant Program at UHN. Keshavjee said he had been studying the preservation of organs for transport “throughout my life.”
“We have used airplanes and helicopters and cars and vans, and there is often a challenge in logistics. But using an entire Learjet to carry an object weighing just two kilograms is not fair,” said Keshavjee.
“Drone flying in this city [challenging]This is because it is a densely populated area with sufficient radio frequency [lots of] People around. So if you can fly a drone in this city, you can fly a drone anywhere.
Keshavjee said he had to get “enough” permission to fly drones, including Health Canada and Nav Canada.
The team undertook 53 test flights between the two hospitals and had to develop a “non-interference” navigation system.
“We have a ballistic parachute in the drone, so if something goes wrong, an engine fails, if it suddenly tipped or it falls off too fast, it cuts off the engines, explodes the parachute and the drone comes slowly to the ground,” Keshavaji said.
When everything was ready, Keshavjee informed the pilot project of the patients on his waiting list.
“When they came to us, they were with my daughter and she said the lungs were available and there was this plan that the doctors were working on. And we were like, ‘Of course, I’m a business engineer and I love technology,’” Hodak said.
“I want to do it for technical reasons and for the results of pursuing science.
“And that’s obviously very important to me because [the drone] It was bringing me the lungs that saved my life. “
‘Lungs come on, we’re coming down’
In late September, the donor’s lungs were taken to Toronto Western and ready to fly on a carbon-fiber drone. The lungs are filled with oxygen and set at the right temperature inside the cool box inside the drone.
Keshavjee waited “terribly” at the Toronto General’s roof. He grafted himself.
Hodak still vividly remembers the night. It was 1am and they were waiting in the surgery room with another doctor.
“[The doctor] He came up beside me and said the lungs were on their way. And then he was on the phone with Dr. Keshavajee on the roof and he said, ‘Lungs came, we’re coming down.’
“And then I closed my eyes and I breathed and I woke up. And I said, ‘I can breathe. It’s awkward.’
But the world had not only allowed Hodak to breathe again before, it also allowed him to attend the wedding of his youngest daughter; Realistically though. Hodak’s daughter married two days after his surgery. He missed his son’s wedding in August because of his health.
“Ten hours later, I woke up and I was able to attend the wedding. It was almost like a miracle wedding gift,” Hodak said.
Three weeks later, Hodak says he feels “amazing” and is still “shocked” that he was able to breathe.
Drone organ delivery could be the future
Keshavjee believes that drone delivery is an important moment for organ distribution worldwide.
The organs must usually be transported by air to the local airport, and then to the hospital by road, this method of delivery completely eliminates the need for airports. The automated process requires no delays, little logistical or logistical issues and no pilots – they have to be replaced if the “time is up” in the delivery process.
Keshavjee says the next step is to test the system with larger drones, which have longer range and can travel farther. This allows them to “slowly extend the distance and solve regulatory problems.”
“It’s one thing to fly a drone at the Toronto downtown. But what do you do when flying around 50?” He asked.
However, once regulations are in place, Keshavjee is confident that organ distribution through drones will become “routine.”
“We can send a drone to Calgary to take a lung and send it back. If we have the networks to retrieve or properly preserve organs, I will see organs transported to a repair center in the future … optimized and manufactured and then flown back to the recipient’s hospital,” he said.
“I think this is just the beginning.”