Melissa Benoit "thought it was a piece of science fiction" when she learned what doctors had done to her, CBC reports. The Canadian mom just couldn't believe it when she learned she had survived for six days without lungs—an impressive feat detailed in a study published Wednesday. According to the Guardian, Benoit, 32, was born with cystic fibrosis. After she came down with a flu that left her coughing so hard she fractured ribs, she was admitted to the hospital in April, the Canadian Press reports. There, doctors realized she had only hours to live. Benoit's lungs were failing, and antibiotic-resistant bacteria was sending her into septic shock, dropping her blood pressure, and knocking her organs out of commission. Life support wasn't working.
Desperate, surgeons decided to remove Benoit's lungs—the source of the bacteria—and go from there. Doctors say "there were a lot of unknowns"—as far as they know, nothing like this had ever been done before—but got "courage" knowing that Benoit would "for sure" die that day if they did nothing. It took 13 people nine hours to remove Benoit's lungs, which were swollen and hard with mucus. They had no idea how long they'd have to wait until a new set of lungs would be available for transplant. In the meantime, they hooked Benoit's heart to an artificial lung. Within minutes, her blood pressure returned to normal. Six days later, she received a successful lung transplant. Benoit says doctors "pulled me back from the dead." (A baby went on the transplant list, and a match turned up in 40 minutes.)