Liesbeth Stoeffler, 61, Runner Kept Going by Rare Lung Treatment, Dies

Liesbeth Stoeffler’s doctors had a bold decision to make in 2009. Ms. Stoeffler was on a ventilator and deeply sedated after cystic fibrosis had destroyed the lungs that had once given her the ability to run and hike.

She needed a double-lung transplant, but doctors worried that prolonged time on the respirator might render her too weak or malnourished to stay eligible for one.

So doctors at Columbia University Irving Medical Center took her off the ventilator after about a day and hooked her to an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machine, or ECMO, which pumped blood from her body, removed carbon dioxide from it and sent oxygen-rich blood flowing back into her. In effect, it acted as an artificial lung.

It was a rarely known and risky deployment of the machine, but not only did it allow Ms. Stoeffler to awaken from sedation; it also allowed her to eat, speak on her smartphone, exercise in bed and walk in place while she was connected to it — for an unusually long 18 days, until the transplant took place.

After finishing trade school, she left Austria in 1977 for an au pair job in Manhattan, where she had hoped to move since she was young, her brother said in an email.

“During the first three years Liesbeth spent in New York, she refused to speak a single word of German,” Mr. Stoeffler wrote, “so she can learn English as fast and as good as possible.”

She took classes in computers and graphic design and was hired by Deutsche Bank, the Blackstone Group and finally the investment management firm Sanford C. Bernstein (now AllianceBernstein). She worked there for nearly 20 years, rising to vice president and presentation specialist and creating graphics for marketing and sales documents.

She began to experience breathing problems while at Bernstein and learned she had cystic fibrosis in 1995. But she kept it largely to herself.

“She was always coughing, causing her co-workers to ask her to check it out,” said Christina Restivo, a close friend who had met her at Bernstein and was the leader of a support team of friends who looked after her. “She kept it private until she was so far along that the only way to live was with a double transplant.”

In June 2009, after a routine blood test at the hospital, Ms. Stoeffler felt too exhausted to return home. One of her doctors, David Lederer, a pulmonologist, admitted her.

“Within 48 hours, she was in the I.C.U., on a ventilator,” he said in a video about her case made by the Irving Medical Center. He added, “She wasn’t really improving on the vent support we were providing for her, so we knew we had to do something for her.”

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