Double-Lung Transplant Gives Commissioner Deer a Second Chance at Life

All photos and images provided by Northwestern Medicine

Cook County Commissioner Dennis Deer received the best early birthday gift anyone could receive: the gift of a better life thanks to a double-lung transplant.

Earlier this year, Northwestern Medicine surgeons performed the first-ever double-lung transplants on Commissioner Deer and patient Yahaira Vega of Elgin.

“It is certainly a miracle,” Commissioner Deer said at a Monday press conference at Northwestern Memorial Hospital’s Feinberg Pavilion. “But now I can breathe. Now I’ve got new lungs on the inside.”

Commissioner Deer had his transplant surgery on May 22, and Vega had hers on April 28. Both were present at a Monday morning press conference with Dr. Ankit Bharat and Dr. Catherine Myers of Northwestern Medicine’s Canning Thoracic Institute, the team behind those surgeries.

Yahaira Vega, the other recipient who received the double-lung transplant surgery.

Both have a rare genetic condition called situs inversus, where the organs in the chest and abdomen develop in a reversed or mirrored image from their normal positions, which necessitates surgery.

“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,” said Dr. Bharat, chief of thoracic surgery and director of the Canning Thoracic Institute, in an earlier statement.

“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.’ 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 technical modifications in order to do it.”



Both patients have and will continue post-op doctor visits and be on multiple medications for the rest of their lives, which are necessary for immunocompromised individuals. Deer and Vega also shared that they made dietary changes to have the surgery and have continued their regimens.

“I had to go through hell and high water to lose 100 pounds. And now I’m actually at 120 pounds that I’ve lost so far. So I’ve completely changed my diet. I completely changed my thinking,” said Deer.

“I tell myself every day I want to live and not die,” Deer said, “And in order to do that, I need to eat to live, not live to eat.”

In January, Deer was sworn in as Cook County Commissioner. He did so from a hospital room while struggling with shortness of breath. At age 50, he developed interstitial lung disease, inflammation and scarring of the lungs from polymyositis which is marked by muscle inflammation and weakness.

On March 31, he was listed for new lungs and spent the next several months hospitalized on supportive oxygen at Northwestern Memorial. Then on May 22, he got a call from doctors that they found a match from a donor.

Having undergone that experience, Deer announced at the press conference that he intends to become an ambassador for organ donations.

“I’d be remiss if I did not say a huge thanks to the donor family. Somebody thought well enough to be willing to donate their lungs or be an organ donor,” he said.

Cook County Commissioner Dennis Deer after surgery.

The fact that the press conference occurred on Monday was poignant for Deer because it also marked his 51st birthday. At the end of the press event, Northwestern Medicine surprised him with cupcakes on the day he received one of the most enduring gifts of his life.

“Somebody out there saved my life and helped me to continue to be a father to my young daughter and continue to be a husband to my wife,” he said.

“And so for that, I’m grateful.”

Patients interested in being evaluated for a lung transplant can contact the referral line at 844.639.5864. For more information about Northwestern Medicine’s lung transplant program, as well as advanced therapies, visit  

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