U.S. Markets closed

Illinois man, 73, oldest to get new lung in Ky.

Dylan Lovan, Associated Press

Lung transplant patient Bill Ray sits with his doctors, Dr. David Nunley, left, Dr. Victor van Berkel, right; and Dr. Allan Ramirez, at Jewish Hospital in Louisville, Ky., on Thursday, March 14, 2013. The hospital says Ray, of Zeigler, Ill., became the oldest patient in Kentucky to receive a new lung when he underwent the surgery last year at age 73. (AP Photo/Dylan Lovan)

LOUISVILLE, Ky. (AP) -- A man who at 73 became the oldest person to receive a lung transplant in Kentucky paid a visit for some follow-up tests Thursday at the hospital where he was operated on, saying he felt almost back to normal.

Bill Ray, an Illinois man who turned 74 last month, went to Jewish Hospital in Louisville for the diagnostic tests about five months after he received a new right lung in a transplant operation there. He said he had regained lost energy.

"Before this I couldn't walk from here to that door," Ray said pointing to entrance about five feet away. "I feel good right now."

Ray is the oldest patient to receive a new lung in Kentucky by a year. A 72-year-old patient at the University of Kentucky Medical Center in Lexington underwent a lung transplant about two weeks ago. UK is home to the only other lung transplant center in the state.

Some hospitals impose an age restriction on potential transplant patients, but Jewish Hospital does not regard age as a limiting factor, Ray's doctors said in an interview Thursday.

"There used to be of a more stringent age limit, but more recently people began to understand ... that age is just a number, it's really how fit you really are in other capacities," said Dr. David Nunley, a University of Louisville surgeon on the team that operated on Ray at Jewish Hospital.

A longtime auto mechanic, Ray was working on his muscle car at his home in Zeigler, Ill., in November 2011 when he said he began to have trouble breathing. He was later diagnosed with pulmonary fibrosis but was declined a bid for a lung transplant at a nearby St. Louis hospital.

"It hurt me, because I thought, 'I'm going to die,'" Ray said.

Jewish Hospital was the only transplant center that Ray received a response from after applying to four more hospitals around the country, he said.

Even patients who have reached an advanced age can be in great physical shape, making them good candidates for a transplant, said Dr. Victor van Berkel, another of Ray's surgeons.

"There are people who have a chronologic age of 75 and are a lot younger than that, and there are people who have a chronologic age of 55 and are a lot older than that," van Berkel said. He said most patients needing a new lung suffer from emphysema, cystic fibrosis or pulmonary fibrosis.

Kristi Lopez, a spokeswoman for University of Kentucky Hospital, said the Lexington hospital also does not impose an age limit and evaluates patients on a case-by-case basis.

Doctors at a Pittsburgh hospital performed a single-lung transplant on an 81-year-old man in 2007, according to an article in The Journal of Thoracic and Cardiovascular Surgery.

Jewish Hospital performed 21 lung transplants in 2012, van Berkel said. There were another 19 at University of Kentucky Hospital last year, and 16 of those were double-lung, Lopez said.