NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — What do you do if you need a lung transplant, but you’re too heavy to qualify for one?

CBS2’s Dr. Max Gomez spoke to a Manhattan man facing that dilemma and the solution that doctors found was with a balloon.

Julio Hernandez was a happy, but very heavy guy. His weight gave his joints trouble, so when he went to get worked up for a knee replacement, he got a nasty surprise: an incurable lung condition.

“I need to get a transplant, that was the only cure. There is no cure for Idiopathic Pulmonary Fibrosis. There is no cure for that. So I had to do a program, lose the weight,” the 54-year-old said.

Even worse, his lung condition made losing that weight almost impossible.

“Because of his breathing issues, he couldn’t lose the weight sort of conventionally with diet and exercise,” Dr. Reem Sharaiha said. “Conventional weight-loss surgery would have been an option for him, but unfortunately that’s done under general anesthesia and his pulmonologist at Columbia felt that was too high risk for him”

That’s when Sharaiha came up with a balloon alternative, called Orbera. It can been placed under light sedation so it was safe enough for Hernandez.

“It’s a space-taker-upper. It fills the stomach, nearly two-thirds of the stomach,” she said. “So it sends signals to your brain saying, ‘You’re full.’ But also when the food goes in, it just stays in the stomach longer.”

The balloon is placed in the stomach through a long, thin endoscope. It’s filled with plain saline and is left in place for no more than six months. Long-term success is dependent on nutrition counseling and continued portion control.

Hernandez lost 70 pounds with the balloon and kept it off, partly to see his granddaughter grow up and so he can get his lung transplant.

“It has given me my life back, you know, before I was sedentary. I was just blah. Now I’m more active, you get to dress better, you know, you feel better about yourself,” he said.

Hernandez is back on the transplant list, waiting for the right match. His weight loss is above average for balloon patients, with most losing 20 to 40 pounds. However, that’s often enough to jump-start a bigger weight loss and enough to improve blood pressure, blood sugar, and other important health markers.


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