My incredible life

Elizabeth Bawden, Jordan Trieger and Dr Tim Wells

Growing up in Brisbane in the 1990s, Jordan Trieger enjoyed a typical Aussie childhood. The third of seven kids, Jordan and his siblings spent their days swimming, riding bikes, playing soccer, and hiking local bush tracks. Being active was a cornerstone of the Trieger household, but it wasn’t just for fun - it was also a way to keep Jordan healthy.

Born with cystic fibrosis, Jordan’s active lifestyle kept his lungs functioning well for many years, but in mid-twenties his health began to deteriorate.

A number of infections left scar tissue in Jordan’s lungs, and over time it became apparent he’d need a transplant.

In 2018, Jordan underwent a double lung-transplant at the Prince Charles Hospital. He describes his initial recovery from the operation as astounding.

“I had an amazing early recovery – I was walking within 48 hours of the operation, and physically, I felt like my ‘health clock’ had been turned back to when I was 18 years old,” Jordan recalls.

“My face was oxygenated, my skin had colour, and my hair and nails virtually grew overnight because my body was finally getting the oxygen it needed to function properly.”

But, unfortunately, it didn’t last.

Almost 12 days after the transplant, Jordan developed a life-threatening bacterial infection, and even though he was treated with antibiotics, his body failed to respond.

It seemed like Jordan was out of options until his clinician, Professor Dan Chambers, Head of Research at the Queensland Lung Transplant Service, remembered meeting Dr Tim Wells at the University of Queensland’s Diamantina Institute (UQDI).

At the time, Dr Wells was investigating a new treatment for a drug-resistant bacteria in chronic lung infections, known as Pseudomonas aeruginosa (PA).

The treatment stemmed from Dr Wells’ postdoctoral research in the UK under Professor Ian Henderson, who is now Director of UQ’s Institute for Molecular Bioscience.

While working with lung infection patients suffering chronic PA, Dr Wells and Professor Henderson identified several patients who produced a specific antibody that prevented their immune system from destroying the bacteria.

“By removing the inhibitory antibody from these patients with a process called plasmapheresis, which replaces poor blood plasma with good plasma or a plasma substitute, we were able to restore normal function of their immune system and lung capacity.”
Dr Wells

Dr Wells crossed paths with Professor Chambers when he expanded his research to include cystic fibrosis and lung transplant patients, however it wasn’t until a phone call that he learned about Jordan. 

“Professor Chambers called me to explain that Jordan had multi-drug resistant PA and was unresponsive to multiple antibiotics. The next day, I arranged to have samples from Jordan collected and by Monday our lab confirmed he had inhibitory antibodies,” Dr Wells explains.

“Shortly after, Jordan commenced plasmapheresis. Since plasma contains all the antibodies and proteins found in blood, it was hoped the treatment would remove the ‘inhibitory antibody’ and allow his immune system to attack the PA bacteria.  

“It was the first time in the world that a post-lung transplant recipient and cystic fibrosis sufferer had been treated using this method,” Dr Wells revealed.

“Even though we had lab evidence to show that the treatment would work, we didn’t know if it would work on a human being. I had some very nervous days and nights, and I know that Jordan and Liz did too. But, when the results came back and they showed the treatment was working – well, it was just absolutely fantastic,” Dr Wells recounts. 

Jordan’s transformation was incredible, and this time things just kept getting better.

Jordan’s partner, Liz Bawden describes the results as almost immediate.

“Jordan started gaining his energy back, he was able to feed himself, and he excelled every day at physio as his strength returned. The best thing of all was seeing his sense of humour return,” Liz recalls.

“Jordan is a very funny guy and when he started cracking jokes again we all knew he was back in top form.”

Now that he has fully recovered, Jordan and Liz are enjoying a new found freedom in life.

“The biggest gift we’ve been given is choice,” Liz explains.

"We can choose to leave the house and come back late, we can choose to go on a holiday, and we can choose to spend the day doing whatever we like – for Jordan that means true independence.”

“Thanks to the dedication of Dr Wells and his medical colleagues, Liz and I can now think about how our future looks,” Jordan says.

“Our new reality is so remarkably different and delightful that we really couldn’t be any more grateful for this new lease on life.”

Lung infection
Bacterial infection
Dr Tim Wells

Dr Tim Wells

Dr Tim Wells

Jordan Trieger
Dr Tim Wells in lab

This story is featured in the Winter 2020 edition of UQmedicine Magazine. View the latest edition here. Or to listen, watch, or read more stories from UQ’s Faculty of Medicine, visit our blog, MayneStream.