Walking Miracles’ Born with reversed lungs, they underwent double-organ transplants to find relief.

Walking Miracles' Born with reversed lungs, they underwent double-organ transplants to find relief.

The Miraculous Double-Lung Transplants: A Tale of Triumph and Laughter

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Medical Team

Dennis Deer, a Chicago-area politician and psychologist, couldn’t believe his ears when he woke up from surgery. After being dependent on supplemental oxygen for two years, he had grown accustomed to having something on his face. But on that miraculous day, his wife broke the news – “You don’t need the oxygen anymore.” Skeptical, Deer immediately grabbed his oximeter to check his oxygen levels, only to find it at an astonishing 99%. He had successfully undergone a double-lung transplant, a life-changing operation performed at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago.

This groundbreaking procedure was a historic first for Northwestern Memorial Hospital, performed on patients with a rare genetic condition called situs inversus. For Deer and the other patient, Yahaira Vega, this condition meant that the organs in their chests and abdomens were developed in a reversed or mirrored image from their normal position. The organs were completely functional, although reversed, in most patients with situs inversus. However, Deer developed an autoimmune disorder that necessitated a lung transplant.

This autoimmune disorder caused inflammation and scarring of Deer’s lungs, making a double-lung transplant necessary. However, he faced a significant obstacle before getting on the waiting list – he needed to lose 100 pounds. Determined, Deer worked hard for over a year to meet this requirement. Once he achieved his target weight, Deer was placed on the donor list and underwent a successful transplant on May 22.

Vega, on the other hand, was born with an accompanying disorder called primary ciliary dyskinesia (PCD). This rare condition hindered the natural removal of germs and pollutants from her airways, resulting in an accumulation of excess mucus. On any given day, her body could produce enough mucus to fill an entire 32-ounce cup. This impairment affected her ability to laugh freely, causing her frustration and negative emotions. Vega’s situation, combined with situs inversus, made her a candidate for a double-lung transplant as well.

However, Vega had the opposite challenge of Deer. Instead of needing to lose weight, she needed to gain weight to qualify for the transplant. With her weight rapidly declining and falling to 76 pounds, she had to reach at least 82 pounds to proceed. This became a difficult battle for Vega, but she managed to make the cut. On April 28, she received her new lungs and looked forward to the day when she could finally laugh without restraint.

For both Deer and Vega, the surgeries symbolized a newfound lease on life. Breathing without the aid of supplemental oxygen was an experience they had nearly forgotten. Deer, who serves as the chair of health and hospitals for Cook County, now plans to champion the cause of organ donation and equitable access to transplants. Recognizing that they owe their lives to generous donors, both Deer and Vega express immense gratitude and acknowledge the invaluable gift they received.

The double-lung transplant surgeries at Northwestern Medicine hold great significance for medical advancements. Dr. Ankit Bharat, chief of thoracic surgery, emphasized the rarity and success of the procedures. The condition of situs inversus presented a unique surgical challenge, requiring on-the-fly modifications to tailor the new organs to fit the mirrored image of the patients’ chest cavities. Situs inversus itself affects approximately 1 in 10,000 people, with some individuals remaining unaware of their condition until unrelated medical attention is sought.

Engaging in a reflective moment, Deer and Bharat realized that they were also celebrating their shared birthday during the media briefing. The serendipitious timing further added to the surreal and awe-inspiring nature of the double-lung transplants. Both patients consider themselves living miracles, with Deer expressing his desire to continue being a devoted father and husband. Grateful for a second lease on life, he admits that someone out there saved his existence by being an organ donor.

The need for lung transplants far exceeds the current supply. In North America, there are approximately 2,000 to 3,000 lung transplants performed each year, while more than 150,000 patients die from chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) alone. This staggering demand underscores the importance of organ donation and highlights the limitations of medical professionals in performing riskier procedures due to organ scarcity.

Dennis Deer and Yahaira Vega’s stories carry profound significance for the field of medicine, emphasizing the power of organ transplantation in transforming lives once considered beyond hope. Their experiences remind us of the continuous need for generosity and compassion, as well as the untapped potential of medical advancements to ensure a future where miracles like these become more commonplace.

For more information on organ donation, please visit the U.S. Health Resources and Services Administration’s website.


  • Ankit Bharat, MD, chief, thoracic surgery, Northwestern Medicine, Chicago
  • Catherine Myers, MD, pulmonologist, Northwestern Medicine Canning Thoracic Institute, Chicago
  • Dennis Deer, PhD, Chicago-area politician and psychologist
  • Yahaira Vega, Elgin, Ill.