Patient Story5 Minute ReadApr | 11 | 2023
Returning to His Breath: Phil’s Lung Transplant Story
As Phil puts it, receiving his new lungs at the Massachusetts General Hospital Transplant Center was “bashert.”
“It’s a Yiddish word meaning ‘meant to be,’” he says. “When I got the call that it was time for transplant, I just knew I was going to be okay.”
Phil Feinman was at the O’Hare International Airport when he realized something was not right. Accustomed to frequent travel from running a global distribution business, it was striking when he suddenly could not walk across the airport without stopping to catch his breath. At first, Phil attributed this aerobic difficulty to his weight. Then, he noticed a worrisome cough.
Phil consulted with his primary care provider (PCP) in Connecticut and was soon diagnosed with hypersensitivity pneumonitis (HP), a rare interstitial lung disease in which an allergic reaction leads to inflamed lungs.
Phil was prescribed a course of high-dose steroids to reduce the inflammation. While his breathing improved, he also experienced a range of adverse reactions, including extreme agitation and rage. He was referred to a local lung specialist who, to his dismay, recommended an increase in his steroid prescription. Disheartened at the prospect of continued side-effects, Phil decided to instead embark on a wellness journey of nutrition and exercise as an alternate way to manage his condition, all under the watchful eye of his PCP.
For eight years, his condition was manageable and his health steady. However, when Phil noticed a significant incline in his symptoms, he decided it was time to seek a second opinion.
A Misdiagnosis Revealed
Phil recalls meeting Robert Hallowell, MD, director of the Interstitial Lung Disease Program at Mass General, for the first time.
“It was love at first sight,” Phil says. “He showed compassion and empathy for what I was going through. I knew then that I would be going to Mass General for the rest of my care.”
It was love at first sight. He [Dr. Hallowell] showed compassion and empathy for what I was going through. I knew then that I would be going to Mass General for the rest of my care.
Lung Transplant Recipient
To his surprise, a video-assisted thoracoscopic surgery (VATs) biopsy revealed that Phil’s condition had been misdiagnosed—he was suffering from an autoimmune variation of pulmonary fibrosis.
“This type of misdiagnosis is being corrected more frequently thanks to newer tests that look for these characteristic antibodies,” says Brian Keller, MD, PhD, medical director of the Lung Transplant Program at Mass General. “Most patients with this diagnosis require transplantation regardless, but by diagnosing it sooner, we can optimize their candidacy more effectively and efficiently.”
Phil was referred to the lung transplant team, led by Dr. Keller and Asishana Osho, MD, cardiothoracic surgeon. Working in close connection with Phil’s primary care provider, they helped him get on the national transplant waitlist and formulate a wellness regimen to ensure the best possible outcomes following surgery.
Phil was grateful and reassured by the team’s transparency about the reality of his condition and the process.
“I was very aware that only about 20% of people on the waitlist live long enough to receive lungs,’” Phil says. “My biggest fear was that I would have to tell my mom she was going to lose another son.” Phil’s three brothers had passed away previously from unrelated illnesses—a devastating experience that Phil says ultimately taught him how to live a full life.
Time for Transplant
As he waited for the phone call, Phil turned over the management of his company to his son, and stepped into his new full-time job of preparing for lung transplant surgery. He went on a strict diet and exercised on his elliptical every day for as long and often as he felt able, even if it was just 15 minutes. He also attended pulmonary rehabilitation sessions of cardiovascular exercise and resistance training.
“I had many reasons why I wanted to live,” says Phil. “I knew that there were steps I could take to improve my chances of better health post-transplant. I gave my family, my doctors and myself my commitment.”
By the time of Phil’s surgery—two months after being added on the donor waitlist—his BMI dropped below 30 as a result of his exercise and diet. When he received the phone call to come in, he recalls a feeling of calm and assuredness.
His surgery, he says, was fate and his confidence in his Mass General team stayed with him as he was wheeled into the operating room and received his new lungs.
Life After Transplant
While his recovery was estimated to take 8-12 weeks, Phil was discharged from Mass General after just three and a half weeks.
According to Dr. Keller, Phil’s communication with his care team helped ensure a smooth surgery and optimal recovery—from being transparent about the progression of his symptoms to reaching out when he experienced complications with his medication.
“My doctors told me they were going to give me a speeding ticket because I was roaming the hallways just four days after surgery, “Phil says. “But they also told me they were proud of me. That’s the kind of relationship we had. They wanted to make sure I wasn’t pushing myself, but also made me feel really great about my progress.”
Since his transplant, Phil has returned to running his business and is looking forward to re-engaging in beloved hobbies including piloting his shared aircraft and skiing with his family at their cottage in Canada.
Most notably, Phil says that he successfully completed his hometown turkey trot in November 2022, alongside a large group of family and friends.
“I’m the luckiest man alive,” Phil says. “I had two support networks throughout my transplant journey—my family and my Mass General team. If you have to go to a hospital, go to Mass General.”
- Director, Interstitial Lung Disease Program
- Director, Pulmonary Ambulatory Clinic
- Assistant Professor of Surgery, Harvard Medical School / Cardiac Surgeon
Centers and Departments
The Mass General Transplant Center
is a destination for those requiring transplant, and is the only center in the region to offer adult transplantation for every organ.
When you support the Massachusetts General Hospital Transplant Center, you are making a significant contribution to advancing care at the hospital.
Lung Transplant Program
The Lung Transplant Program brings together state-of-the-art technology and leading-edge medical and surgical interventions to provide patients with individualized care before and after their lung transplants.