Chicago police captain undergoes ‘lifesaving’ double lung transplant after lung cancer, COVID-19 diagnoses

Chicago law enforcement officer Arthur "Art" Gillespie, 56, lost his dad, uncle, and cousin to COVID-19 before receiving his own dual diagnosis.

Arthur Gillespie double lung transplant
Arthur Gillespie (center), who underwent a double lung transplant, stands with medical professionals at Chicago's Northwestern Medicine. (Photo Credit: Screenshot/Northwestern Medicine's Canning Thoracic Institute)

A Chicago police captain is feeling like a new man.

Arthur “Art” Gillespie, 56, underwent a successful double lung transplant on Jan. 6, necessitated by damage caused by lung cancer and a severe case of COVID-19. According to People magazine, his lung cancer diagnosis coincided with a critical COVID-19 infection in March 2020, leading to the need for this lifesaving procedure.

“I lost my dad, uncle and cousin to COVID,” Gillespie shared in a statement. “In February 2020, my dad and I went to visit my uncle in a nursing facility and by early March, we were all sick. I was hospitalized for 12 days with a high fever and cough, and during that time, they were taking scans of my lungs, which showed stage 1 lung cancer on my right lung. I had no symptoms of lung cancer, so in a way — because of COVID — we were able to catch the cancer early.”

Gillespie underwent chemotherapy and, in November 2020, had two-thirds of his right lung removed. Despite daily physical therapy, he said he spent the next three years “going backwards,” which hindered his plans to return to work as captain at the University of Chicago Police Department.

“My left lung was damaged from COVID, and my right lung was damaged from lung cancer,” Gillespie, who worked for 30 years in law enforcement, said.

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In September 2023, Gillespie — who ultimately required daily supplemental oxygen and was told he couldn’t be helped — tried his luck at Northwestern Medicine’s Canning Thoracic Institute.

Despite the police captain’s outward strength, Dr. Ankit Bharat, chief of thoracic surgery and director of the Canning Thoracic Institute, said Gillespie could hardly speak a sentence without running out of breath — or walk more than a few steps before needing to sit down.

Dr. Bharat noted that Gillespie’s “only option for survival was a double-lung transplant,” as the pressure inside his lungs had also grown to the point where it was causing heart failure. However, because of his health history, he might have been ineligible for the procedure at another institution.

“Arthur is a fighter. He had two major problems — lung cancer and COVID,” Bharat said, Northwestern Medicine reported. “Historically, both would be considered non-salvageable for lung transplantation, but we were able to treat both of those conditions with a double-lung transplant procedure.”

Bharat stated that even though previous physicians told Gillespie “no,” he persisted in his quest for answers. “I feel honored that we were able to help him since he spent so many years helping the community as a police captain,” he added.

A month after Bharat performed Gillespie’s procedure, the police captain was watching the Super Bowl with friends — and he didn’t have to use his portable oxygen concentrator the entire time.

“I’ve always tried to be an optimistic person; glass-half-full type of thing,” Gillespie shared, according to People. “And obviously there’s a silver lining: If it wasn’t for the COVID, there’s no telling how long [the cancer would be undetected] because there was no symptoms or signs that was presenting themselves that let me know I was in that condition.”

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