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Historic anniversary celebrated at U of U Health

Posted at 12:14 PM, Jun 22, 2022
and last updated 2022-06-22 14:14:21-04

SALT LAKE CITY — The University of Utah Hospital is celebrating an anniversary that has literally helped hundreds of people breathe easier.

This year marks 25 years since the hospital became an official lung transplant center. During that time, doctors and staff have helped more than 300 people through the procedure that until 60 years ago didn’t even exist.

“These recipients no longer spend every minute thinking about catching their breath and being confined to their home. Lung transplantation truly improves both the quantity and quality of life,” said Dr. Matthew Morrell, medical director of the program.

People like Lala Juarez who had a chronic lung condition that made even simple tasks extremely difficult.

“It feels like you’re breathing through a straw on a regular basis," explained Juarez. "With exertion it feels like you’re breathing through a coffee straw.”

Juarez was recommended to University of Utah Hospital by another doctor, and last year was deemed eligible for a transplant. She said the difference in her life is amazing and wants to thank everyone who’s been a part of it.

“Every single, little person along the way was a little angel to me. From my previous hospital to this hospital, to the surgeons here, my donor and their family, I don’t think I could even say how thankful I am, especially to my donor,” expressed Juarez.

Now that Juarez made it through the first year, she said she’ll continue seeing doctors for follow-up visits to make sure her body doesn’t reject the organ. But she’s really looking forward to the rest of her life and the ability to breathe much more easily.

“Just everything, life’s exciting! I have an independence that I didn’t have before and all this stuff so I’m just excited about what’s gonna happen.”

Within the past year, doctors performed the first lung transplant on someone who was looking at a potentially fatal, upper respiratory issue due to COVID-19 infection. Doctors at the hospital said that may become more common for those who have been hit hard by the coronavirus.

Hospital officials added that none of their success would be possible without the people who decide to donate organs after they pass away.