A dual procedure saves the life of UCLA transplant patient

Felix Baltazar and his wife Peggy enjoying life post-transplant/ Photo by Joshua Suddock/UCLA Health

Felix Baltazar needed a lung transplant. The problem was, that he also had a heart condition that left him with four blocked arteries. So, before he could begin to think about a lung transplant, he needed to have a procedure to fix his heart.

In June of 2021, Baltazar was diagnosed with idiopathic pulmonary fibrosis (IPF), a disease that causes scarring of the lungs. “Idiopathic” means the origin of the disease is unknown. In most cases, treatment for IPF means a transplant.

Before Baltazar could qualify for a transplant, he had to undergo a series of tests. A coronary angiogram — a procedure to check how well the blood vessels supply the heart — revealed Baltazar’s heart condition. The news was unsettling for Baltazar and his wife, Peggy.

“I’m in a good mood even though I know I need a lung transplant,” said Baltazar. “Then the doctor tells me the bad news about my heart. It was like, ‘Ok, you’re going to die in five years (from IPF), and if that doesn’t get you, then a heart attack will.’”

A resident of the Bay Area, Baltazar was receiving care at UC San Francisco Health system when he got his dual diagnosis. Normally, surgeons at UCSF Health would have performed Baltazar’s lung transplant, but because of his heart issue, he was no longer a candidate for the transplant there.

UCSF referred Baltazar to UCLA Health. After doing some research, “we felt that UCLA was where we needed to be,” said Peggy Baltazar.

Relocation and Surgery

In September 2021, the Baltazars came to Los Angeles, and soon they met Abbas Ardehali, MD, director of the UCLA Heart, Lung Transplant programs. Three months later, Baltazar was accepted as a transplant candidate. However, he was placed on a waiting list with more than 30 people ahead of him.

Though Baltazar was concerned that he might have to wait a year or more before receiving his transplant, things began to move quickly. On April 14, 2022, approximately 3 to 4 months after he was listed, Baltazar underwent both a lung transplant and heart bypass.

“We were surprised how fast everything moved,” he said. “I thought I would be on the list for a long time. But I was told that based on my size, my age and the size of my lung that I was the only one in that category, which moved up my timeline for a transplant.”

Felix Baltazar getting back to creating art after a successful lung transplant./Photo by Joshua Suddock/ UCLA Health

A very unique procedure

Baltazar’s surgery was a complex operation. Because Baltazar had blocked arteries, Dr. Ardehali first had to perform a coronary bypass to restore normal blood flow to Baltazar’s heart. Once he corrected that issue, he then followed with the lung transplant.

 “It’s a very difficult procedure,” Dr. Ardehali said. “It’s the reason why many other health centers in the country do not offer lung transplants unless you are good candidate and don’t need anything else.”

“Due to the experienced staff and infrastructure at UCLA Health, we are able to offer many patients who are otherwise considered ‘not acceptable’ candidates a chance to undergo procedures such as the one Mr. Baltazar experienced.”

Dr. Ardehali noted that because Baltazar took care of himself and was in good physical condition, it made him a prime candidate for this particular procedure.

UCLA is the place for transplants

Baltazar’s case reflects UCLA Health’s reputation as one of the best transplant programs in the world and a center to which patients from other states and countries come for treatment.  

“I’m so thankful and overwhelmed with gratitude for what Dr. Ardehali and UCLA’s transplant program was able to do for me,” said Baltazar. “UCLA has changed my perspective on people and my perspective on life.

To learn more about UCLA Health’s transplant programs, visit the UCLA Health Heart Lung transplant pages for more information.


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