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(NEW YORK) -- Two Illinois patients have successfully undergone double-lung transplants after being born with "flipped organs."

Cook County Commissioner Dennis Deer, 50, and Yahaira Vega, 27, both have a rare genetic condition known as situs inversus, in which organs in the chest and abdomen developed reversed or mirrored from their normal positions.

Situs inversus only affects one in every 10,000 people, according to the Cleveland Clinic. Most people don't realize they have the condition and lead normal lives. However, it can be associated with other help complications, the clinic said.

That was the case for Vega. In addition to situs inversus, she was also born with primary ciliary dyskinesia, another rare condition that prevents cilia -- small hair-like structures that line the airways -- from moving mucus out, causing the mucus to build up.

As Vega's condition worsened, she was put on the transplant list. A match was found in just nine days, and she underwent the operation at Northwestern Memorial on April 28.

"Before my transplant … I felt inadequate and hopeless. In many ways, I was like a baby again, sleeping all the time and unable to regulate anything going on in my body," Vega said. "With my new lungs, I have so much energy and I'm able to laugh again. I'm thankful for my donor, their family and my incredible transplant team. Because of them, I have my life back."

Similarly, Deer also had muscle inflammation, which led to him developing interstitial lung disease, which causes scarring of the lungs.

Deer was sworn in as Cook County commissioner in December 2022 while in a hospital room at Northwestern Memorial, where he was being treated for breathing problems. He was listed for a double lung transplant at the end of March, spending the next few months on supportive oxygen.

On May 22, Deer received a call that doctors had found a match.

"To be able to breathe again was incredible; I won't ever take life for granted," said Deer, adding that he wants to raise awareness about organ donation.

Lung transplants are always complex operations regardless of the patient but are even more challenging in patients with situs inversus. Dr. Ankit Bharat, chief of thoracic surgery, said at a press conference it's rare to do one lung transplant for this condition, let alone two in the span of one month in the same health system.

"When performing the surgery, it's an interesting dilemma because the inside of the body is essentially a mirror image of what it normally would be," he explained. "The heart is typically on the left side, but with situs inversus, it's on the right side. The right lung is on the left side and the left lung is on the right side."

"So, when we take the old lungs out, we have to put new lungs in from a donor with 'normal organs,'" he added. "This is more challenging, because the new lungs need to fit into a chest cavity that's a mirror image, so we had to come up with some."

On Monday, Vega and Deer met one another for the first time during a press conference at the hospital. Deer also turned 51.

"I spent a lot of time not being able to breathe," Deer said. "I would walk 10 steps and I was gasping for air. This has changed my life dramatically. This is a special birthday because there was a time it was looking real gloomy and I wouldn't see my 51st birthday."

Vega said she is looking forward to having a boisterous laugh.

"When I was sick, I could never laugh like those snorty piggy laughs because I would choke on mucus and it could cause frustration," she said. "I could never really focus on the joy. Now that the negative common denominator has been removed and my sternum is strong enough to laugh. I'm going to have the ugliest laugh ever."


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