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Mold derails lung patient’s dream

Ben Schmitt
DuvallCaro
Submitted
Che DuVall, 70, a former glass cutter from Perryopolis with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, underwent a double lung transplant in UPMC Presbyterian.

Che DuVall dreamed of taking his grandchildren fishing on a bass boat and inhaling fresh air without pain.

Afflicted with a progressive lung disorder, he waited three years for a double lung transplant.

On Aug. 1, that dream started to become reality: DuVall, 70, a former glass cutter from Perryopolis with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, underwent a double lung transplant in UPMC Presbyterian.

“Everything was on course for a happy ending,” Jerry Meyers, a Pittsburgh attorney representing DuVall and his wife of 39 years, Karen, said Monday. “The transplant went great.”

What happened next, Meyers said, put the DuVall family at center stage of a mold crisis at UPMC that led to a six-day suspension of its transplant program. DuVall developed a fungal infection on the tissue of his new lungs.

Meyers said the infection spread to the point where doctors on Sept. 4 removed two of five lobes of DuVall’s new lungs. He remains hospitalized.

“The whole purpose of this transplant was to give him new lungs,” Meyers said. “This was a dream — a miracle for him. Now, as a consequence of this fungal infection, he lost two lobes of his new lungs.”

As UPMC officials publicly confirmed this month the deaths of three transplant patients who had skin fungal infections, Karen DuVall retained Meyers and attorney Brendan Lupetin of the law firm Meyers Evans & Associates, Downtown. The firm is considering a lawsuit.

UPMC spokeswoman Allison Hydzik said officials could not comment because of patient privacy laws.

Between the Aug. 1 transplant and Sept. 4 lobe removal surgery, Meyers said, DuVall was in and out of Presby’s cardiothoracic intensive care unit and had procedures in which doctors viewed his lungs with a bronchoscope.

DuVall developed a fever about Aug. 30, and doctors told Karen DuVall on Sept. 3 that he had a fungal lung infection, Meyers said.

Two weeks later, she received a letter from Dr. Carlene Muto, UPMC’s medical director of infection control and hospital epidemiology, telling her that “an infection was discovered that could possibly be associated with exposure to mold.”

Meyers said he’s baffled as to how doctors did not diagnose the infection earlier. Just six days after his transplant, DuVall had improved to the point where doctors told his wife to prepare for his discharge.

Then he started having breathing problems, and doctors treated him with antibiotics for a suspected bacterial infection, according to Lupetin.

DuVall was treated in the same room of Presby’s cardiothoracic ICU where two heart transplant patients who had fungal skin infections were treated before dying, Meyers and Lupetin said.

UPMC doctors have said those deaths, and that of a liver transplant patient at UPMC Montefiore, cannot be directly attributed to the infections because the patients had weakened immune systems.

UPMC halted the transplant program Sept. 21. It reopened Sunday after an on-site investigation by the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and the Pennsylvania Department of Health.

Dr. Steven Shapiro, the hospital system’s chief medical officer, said UPMC never found a source for the mold. He said investigators may never determine a specific source.

“The most unifying hypothesis is that as we treat one fungal infection from a mold species, like Candida or Aspergillus, and another one appears,” Shapiro said. “And when we treat that, another one appears again. It is a constant battle of man versus microbe.”

He said investigators discounted the demolition of the Children’s Hospital building attached to Presby as an origin for the mold. He said mold found in toilets and a wall of the Presby ICU did not match the type that infected the patients.

The health department asked UPMC to implement corrective action. Shapiro said the plan includes administering antifungal medication to high-risk transplant patients with suppressed immune systems.

Meyers does not buy UPMC’s explanation that fungal infections occur only in sick patients.

“He is a thin guy; he has an ideal body type. That’s the reason they let him undergo transplant at age 70,” the attorney said. “They are trying to make it seem like he is some defective guy, which just isn’t the case.”

Shapiro did not identify DuVall by name but said the lung transplant patient is doing “remarkably well.”

While her husband recovers, Karen DuVall took out a home equity loan to make modifications that would make her husband’s life easier and safer. Among them: a roof replacement to fix a leak, and she feared that mold could make him sick, Lupetin said.

“She is holding up miraculously well,” he said of DuVall, who teaches Sunday school and works as a housing advocate for people with disabilities. “Her positive attitude explains a lot about his improvement despite these incredible setbacks.”

Ben Schmitt is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-320-7991 or [email protected].

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