CHICAGO — Northwestern Medicine surgeons have successfully performed a double lung transplant on a man with terminal lung cancer, they announced Thursday — an extremely rare surgery that could open the door to helping more patients with certain types of cancer.

Albert Kouhry, 54 of Chicago, underwent the surgery six months ago, after developing Stage 4 lung cancer. His new lungs are now working well, and he seems to be cancer-free.

Lung transplants should not replace standard treatments for lung cancer, which include surgery, chemotherapy, immunotherapy and radiation, said Dr. Ankit Bharat, Northwestern chief of thoracic surgery and executive director of the Canning Thoracic Institute. Those are still the most effective treatments, he said. But the success of the surgery on Khoury could mean a new option for patients with certain types of lung cancer for whom standard treatments haven’t worked.

“We absolutely think the success of this patient allows us to expand this to other patients,” Bharat said. “I think we will be able to help some patients who would otherwise die because of lack of conventional treatments.”

The surgery was a first for Northwestern Medicine, and Bharat said he’s not aware of any other hospital that has successfully performed a double lung transplant on a patient with terminal lung cancer.

Typically, patients with cancer are not eligible to receive organ transplants because it’s feared that the cancer will recur after the transplant. Patients who receive new organs must take medication to suppress their immune systems, which can lead to a recurrence if any cancer cells are left in the body. In Kouhry’s case, however, his cancer was confined to his chest cavity and lungs. It had not yet spread to other parts of his body.


The seven-hour-long surgery required meticulous work by surgeons, who had to remove Khoury’s lungs without spilling any cancer cells into his blood stream or chest.

Khoury said in a news release that his life has gone “from zero to 100″ since the transplant.

He first started feeling ill, with back pain, sneezing, chills, and a cough with mucus in early 2020. At first, he thought it was COVID-19, but then he started coughing up blood. Khoury, a nonsmoker, was diagnosed with Stage 1 lung cancer, but because of the pandemic, he had to wait to start treatment. His cancer quickly progressed to Stage 4.

He said he was told by doctors at other health systems that he wouldn’t make it. Before the transplant at Northwestern, he was on a ventilator and had developed pneumonia and sepsis.

Khoury called Northwestern after hearing about the hospital’s groundbreaking work performing lung transplants on COVID-19 patients in recent years. In June 2020, Northwestern performed the first known double lung transplant in the country for a COVID-19 patient whose lungs were severely damaged by the disease.

Bharat said the lessons surgeons learned performing those transplants on COVID-19 patients helped inform their work on Khoury.

Surgeons also had to be careful, when doing those operations, not to spill any of the COVID-19 infection into the bloodstream, he said.

“If the COVID pandemic hadn’t hit us and we hadn’t done the successful COVID transplants, we would likely not have performed this double lung transplant for the cancer,” Bharat said.