Skip to Main Content

Dad, cousin breathe life into woman

By Kay Lazar

Mike Cuddy's scar stretches from under his left arm to the middle of his back. And even when he is fully healed, the 20-year-old's lung capacity will be about 15 percent less than it once was. 

But Cuddy, a junior at the University of Massachusetts at Lowell, downplays his sacrifice and his pivotal role in a recent operation that is now part of medical history.

Cuddy gave a portion of his lung to a cousin Oct. 8 in a surgery so rare it had only been performed 17 times before in Massachusetts.

``She's had to deal with so much,''he said. ``To give up one small thing is nothing compared to what she's been through.''

Kathleen Cuddy, 24, received part of Mike's lung and part of her father's in an eight-hour operation that created a new set of lungs for the petite North Reading native.

Ten years ago, Kathleen Cuddy's big sister, Jennifer, died waiting for a double lung transplant from a deceased donor. Cystic fibrosis, a genetic disease, had ravaged her lungs.

But a decade's worth of medical advances made it possible for Kathleen to get living lung donations from relatives. The procedure won't cure her cystic fibrosis, but will buy her precious years as scientists search fortreatments.

``It's been a roller-coaster ride,'' said Kathleen's dad, John Cuddy. ``It's really our faith that carried us through.''

The 52-year-old says he feels a bit short of breath and will be out of work for a month recuperating. But he'd do it again in an instant.

``I want to be there when Kate wakes up and says, `I can really take a deep breath and it feels good to breathe,' '' he said.

Kate's lungs were so battered by disease she was hospitalized on a ventilator for nearly two months before surgery.

She is still sedated on a ventilator and faces weeks of rehabilitation in the hospital before she heads home.

``All of these patients are amazing, but she's making good progress,'' said Dr. John Wain, Kate's surgeon at Massachusetts General Hospital.

Wain has done nearly all of the state's living lung transplants, averaging less than two a year since the procedure started in Massachusetts in 1995.

He said one of the reasons the operation is so rare is the ethical dilemma of removing lung lobes from two healthy donors and placing them at risk from a surgery they wouldn't otherwise need.

Still, Wain said MGH is likely to double the number of such surgeries, averaging four or five in the next year.

``It's partly because there's the need, and partly because everyone is more comfortable with it,'' he said, ``not just the doctors and the nurses but patients and their families, too.''