Wyoming dad nearly loses his life to flu

St. Joseph's saves his life weeks before wife delivers their third baby at the hospital


A young father from Wyoming is back home with his family after complications from the flu caused him to have a lifesaving double lung transplant at Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center’s Norton Thoracic Institute in Phoenix, AZ. Michael Bise, 30, not only received the gift of life at St. Joseph’s – he and his wife also welcomed a baby girl into the world at the same hospital just weeks after Bise’s transplant. A dedicated team of doctors and nurses from several different specialties coordinated a plan that allowed Bise, who was in the early stages of recovery, to be in the delivery room for his daughter’s birth.

“It meant everything to me to be in the delivery room and support both my wife and daughter,” said Bise. “It was quite an experience.”

Shortly after ringing in the New Year, Bise was diagnosed with Influenza A which caused him to develop acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS). Bise’s health deteriorated and he was flown to Phoenix’s St. Joseph’s Norton Thoracic Institute, one of the nation’s largest and busiest lung transplant centers. Bise was in dire need of a new set of lungs to save his life. 

“When you hear of people dying from the flu, it’s typically from a severe case of acute respiratory distress syndrome,” said Rajat Walia, MD, medical director of lung transplantation at St. Joseph’s Norton Thoracic Institute. “The condition causes a person’s lungs to fill with fluid, making it difficult and at times impossible to breathe, and this can deteriorate to irreversible scarring or fibrosis which is what happened in Michael’s case.” 

The exact number of flu patients diagnosed with ARDS is unknown. However, fewer than 40 percent of hospitalized patients with confirmed influenza develop acute-pneumonia – which can progress to ARDS in some cases. ARDS is a deadly diagnosis for about half of the patients who develop the condition, according to Dr. Walia. 

Before arriving for care in Phoenix, Bise was treated at several hospitals in Wyoming and Colorado, however, his condition continued to digress. The man, who was once described as being as strong as an ox, was put on a type of life support machine to help him breathe. The extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machine (ECMO) essentially uses an artificial lung to help circulate a patient’s blood. 
Bise’s pregnant wife, Marisha, was told that her husband would need a lung transplant if he was going to return home to his family. This was a heartbreaking message she had to relay to her two older children and their loved ones in their small town of Wheatland, WY. 

“We went to my parent’s house and everyone came over,” said Marisha. “I think they already knew the severity, but we had to tell them that Mike wouldn’t recover with his own lungs. The only way he would survive is from a double lung transplant.”

Bise was too ill to undergo a lung transplant in Colorado after developing a rare infection, so he was referred to Norton Thoracic Institute located at Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center. Norton Thoracic Institute has a national reputation of excellence and innovation when it comes to caring for patients with complex and severe thoracic conditions.

“When we heard of Michael’s case, we knew the risks were high but a lung transplant was his only option of returning to his family,” said Dr. Walia. “There was no question in our mind that this was the right thing to do.”

In April, the Norton team was able to quickly coordinate an emergency medical air transport to take Bise from Colorado to its center in Phoenix, Ariz. Once he arrived, a skilled team of thoracic specialists monitored Bise’s condition as he waited for a lung transplant. Less than two weeks after arriving in Phoenix, Bise received the news he and his family had been waiting for.

“I was in the store and Michael Facetimed me and he had a big grin on his face,” said Marisha, who had temporarily relocated to Phoenix to support and advocate for her husband. “He said he got listed and I thought, ‘that’s not possible!’”

Bise was quickly rushed to the operating room where thoracic surgeons Michael Smith, MD, and Chirag Patel, MD, performed a successful and complex double lung transplant. The operation required two experienced transplant surgeons because Michael was critically ill. 

“We knew going into the operating room that this was going to be a complex transplant due to the amount of scar tissue surrounding Michael’s lungs,” said Dr. Smith. “With years of expertise on our side, our skilled team was able to carefully remove the damaged lungs and implant new ones, allowing Michael to once again breathe on his own just three days later.”

Post-transplant, Bise started down the road to recovery as his wife started preparing for the arrival of their third child. The transplant coordinators worked alongside Dr. Claudia Chamber’s obstetrics team at St. Joseph’s to help transfer Marisha’s prenatal care from Wyoming to Phoenix as her husband was still in the hospital recovering from surgery. 

Less than a month after his transplant, Bise was in the hospital’s inpatient rehabilitation unit undergoing physical therapy when he received the call that Marisha was going into labor. In just over an hour, a team of doctors, nurses and coordinators from multiple departments across St. Joseph’s worked together to ensure Bise was in the delivery room to welcome his daughter into the world. Harper Bise, a healthy baby girl, arrived in May. 

In August, the Bise’s returned home to Wyoming and are creating new memories as a family of five. Bise continues to regain muscle mass after spending several months in the hospital. One of his favorite things to hold in his arms – his wife and children.

“It’s nice to know we have some promise in the future after being told so many times that he wasn’t going to be here,” said Marisha. “We wouldn’t have gotten through this experience without the support of our family and friends.”

As for Michael – he’s looking forward to taking care of his family. 
“I’m living life to the fullest and not taking it for granted,” he said.