Fernando Padilla had to have an oxygen tank at his side everywhere he went. He has pulmonary fibrosis, which turn lungs into cardboard and makes assisted breathing a fact of life.

Still, at least he had that — life. But the 57-year-old lifelong carpenter, who actually worked on the construction of Ronald Reagan UCLA Medical Center, put it all on the line to be a part of an experiment that would make him the first recipient of breathing lungs in the nation:

It happened successfully at — you guessed it — UCLA.

Padilla said that before the transplant he couldn't “do nothing.” Now he's poised to become a man about town again.

The miraculous procedure, announced by the school this week, used the the TransMedics Organ Care System (OCS).

With the OCS, the lungs are removed from a donor's body and are placed in a mobile high-tech box, where they are immediately revived to a warm, breathing state and perfused with oxygen and a special solution supplemented with packed red-blood cells. The device also features monitors that display how the lungs are functioning during transport.

Previously, donor lungs would just be put on ice.

UCLA says the OCS way could allow for more donor lungs to become available to the 1,650 people awaiting transplants because the system can facilitate long-distance transportation of the organs.

TransMedics, by the way, also has a similar “heart in a box” system that can provide a warm, beating heart to those in need. Really.

Padilla, meanwhile, says the lungs have breathed new life into his world. UCLA:

The oxygen tanks are long gone. He walks several miles a day with his wife, plays with his grandkids and enjoys life with his family.

[@dennisjromero / djromero@laweekly.com / @LAWeeklyNews]

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