ST. LOUIS (KTVI) — Doctors performed an innovative surgery using breast implants to save the life of a 34-year-old Missouri man who needed a double lung transplant after a severe infection.

When David “Davey” Bauer was 21, he began smoking cigarettes but turned to vaping in 2014 because he believed it was a better alternative.

Bauer was in seemingly good health and enjoyed physical activities like snowboarding and skateboarding. He also worked a landscaping job in De Soto, Missouri, located about 45 miles south of St. Louis.

In April, he began having shortness of breath and caught the flu. Bauer eventually developed a lung infection that was resistant to antibiotics, according to Northwestern Medicine. As his health began to deteriorate, he was admitted to a St. Louis hospital for treatment.

Doctors said the damage to his lungs was so extensive that they had to place him on an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO. It’s a device that pumps blood throughout the body, allowing the heart and lungs to rest, according to Mayo Clinic.

“Davey’s lungs were so heavily infected that they started to liquefy. If you looked at his X-ray, there was nothing left – the lungs were completely filled with puss,” said Rade Tomic, a pulmonologist and the medical director of the Northwestern Medicine Canning Thoracic Institute Lung Transplant Program.

David Bauer recovers at Northwestern Medicine in July 2023. (Photo courtesy of Northwestern Medicine)

Doctors determined the 34-year-old needed a double lung transplant, and he was later transferred to Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

“When we received a call from Davey’s medical team in St. Louis, we thought we could help him, but it was also very clear he wouldn’t survive the transplant in his current condition,” Tomic said.

In May, surgeons removed Bauer’s infected lungs and attached an artificial lung to his body. But the medical team needed to figure out a way to keep his heart from collapsing inside his chest cavity. That’s where the breast implants came into play.

“One of the important things was to keep his heart supported. That was done using DD breast implants,” said Dr. Ankit Bharat, chief of thoracic surgery and director of the Canning Thoracic Institute. “So, with that, we could put him in a position of stability and get him to the ICU.”

“What we found was very rapidly, his body started to clear the infection,” Bharat added. “He improved rapidly, and then we were able to list him. And within 24 hours, we got an organ offer, and on May 28, we took him back to the operating room and implanted new lungs.”

David Bauer holds up his “DD Davey” during a press conference. (Photo courtesy of Northwestern Medicine)

The surgery kept blood flowing to his heart and kept his brain and organs functioning correctly. This marks the first time that a patient had both lungs removed and breast implants temporarily put in their place, according to the hospital.

“We want to thank our plastic surgeons on giving us a rapid-fire crash course on breast implants,” Bharat said. “We felt like with the lungs taken out, we needed something to support his heart, and the double-D breast implants were the best fit and, frankly, the largest we could get at the time.”

Bauer, who has nicknamed himself “DD Davey,” said he wishes he would have stopped vaping sooner and hopes that this procedure can help more patients in the future.

“If I could go back in time, I never would have picked up a cigarette or vape pen,” he said. “And I hope my story can help encourage others to quit, because I wouldn’t wish this difficult journey on anyone.”

On Wednesday, Bauer and his girlfriend received gifts from the medical team as the first-ever recipient of a most unusual lifesaving procedure, a t-shirt bearing his new nickname: DD Davey.

“Oh, it’s incredible,” Bauer said. “I got a second chance at life.”