COVID in One Lung, Cancer in the Other: A Chicago Police Captain Undergoes Lifesaving Double-Lung Transplant

A Chicago police captain was diagnosed with severe COVID and lung cancer at the same time. His only option for survival was a double-lung transplant through the DREAM Program at Northwestern Medicine.

A Chicago Police Captain, Arthur Gillespie, aged 56, expressed how fortunate he feels to be alive after facing a dire health crisis involving COVID-19 and lung cancer, which he said "literally took his breath away." During the critical period in March 2020, Gillespie had no option but to undergo a pioneering double lung transplant at Northwestern Medicine. Before the transplant, he was hospitalized at another facility where he was battling COVID-19. Tragically, he had already lost his father, uncle, and cousin to the disease. A series of X-rays revealed severe damage from COVID-19 in one lung and a suspicious spot in the other. Dr. Scamman alerted him about an anomaly in the right lung that required further investigation, which was later diagnosed as stage one cancer.

As a 30-year police veteran, Gillespie started chemotherapy and had two-thirds of his right lung removed. After returning home, his initial goal was to regain strength and resume work. However, over three years, he experienced a decline in health, feeling weaker and needing daily supplemental oxygen. "I started to feel a regression, like I was going in the other direction, losing the capabilities I once had," Gillespie explained. This setback led him to seek help from Northwestern Medicine and their DREAM program. The team there was shocked by how debilitated he had become, barely able to speak a full sentence without struggling for breath and constantly requiring oxygen.

With increasing pressure in his lungs causing heart failure, Gillespie’s sole survival option was a double lung transplant. He resolved to improve and courageously embarked on this challenging journey. In January, Gillespie underwent a successful 10-hour surgery to receive his new lungs. By February, he celebrated his recovery by watching the Super Bowl with friends, without needing his portable oxygen concentrator—an achievement that marked a significant turn in his recovery. Gillespie reflected on his experience, grateful for the second chance at life, a precious opportunity that many do not receive. "I'm thankful beyond words," he said.

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