Getty Images: J.D. Pooley
CLEVELAND -- Sal Pulito is one of four people in Ohio waiting for a heart/lung transplant.
According to Lifebanc, there are 118 Ohioans waiting for lungs alone.
"I don't know what it's like to breathe normally, but I'm looking forward to achieving my goals and living the life that I always wanted to live," Sal says.
He was born with a heart defect called Pulmonary Atresia that limits blood and oxygen flow to his lungs. Even walking can be difficult.
To learn more about Sal's battle, click HERE.
Last month, Sal received the call he'd been waiting for. A donor had been found. Sal went to the Cleveland Clinic and prepped for surgery, but then his surgeon told him the organs weren't good enough to be transplanted.
Sal had to go home and wait for another phone call and, sadly, stories like his aren't uncommon.
The Cleveland Clinic does more lung transplants than anywhere else in the country, averaging about 125 a year.
"We utilize about 40 to 45 percent of lungs from the available donors. There are many areas in the United States where it's as low as 12 percent or 15 percent," says transplant surgeon Dr. Dr. Kenneth McCurry.
He's hoping a new device may fix that problem. His team is using a type of cardiopulmonary machine that is refurbishing lungs rejected for transplant.
"I think we can increase the number of lung transplants by 50 percent or more and I think here at the Clinic that we could maybe even come close to doubling the number of lung transplants that we're able to perform which would be huge," Dr. McCurry says.
There are a number of reasons lungs can't be used. They're a fragile organ and sometimes the function of the oxygen exchange may be damaged. There may be an infection or, most commonly, there's fluid in the lungs.
The machine allows researchers to use a ventilator to improve lung function and pump a special protein solution into the lungs to boost performance. The machine can also remove excess fluid.
The solution is not yet FDA approved but Dr. McCurry believes that once that happens, refurbished lungs may be used for transplant.
That's something that gives new hope to patients like Sal to get something we all take for granted.
"I can breathe and that's something that I haven't been able to experience ever."