RALEIGH, N.C. – Doctors say a North Carolina man who was plagued with coughing fits should be OK now that they have removed a 1-inch piece of plastic from his lung, where it had rested since he apparently inhaled it nearly two years ago while sucking down a soft drink at a Wendy's restaurant.
Doctors at Duke University Medical Center say the plastic fragment of an eating utensil — with the Wendy's logo still legible on the side — was likely to blame for the coughing, fatigue and pneumonia spells that plagued John Manley for almost two years.
They pulled the fast-food foreign object from Manley's left lung during a Sept. 10 surgery. The 50-year-old Wilmington resident said he probably inhaled it while gulping a drink from Wendy's.
"I like to take big gulps of drink," the former home remodeler said. "I don't know of any other ways of it getting in there."
Manley said he and his wife were puzzled by his bouts of illness after moving to the North Carolina coastal city from Queens, N.Y., about two years ago. He met with multiple doctors, who eventually determined there was a foreign object in his left lung. But they couldn't figure out what it was or the best way to remove it.
"One doctor said they could remove my lung," Manley said. "I said no way. That was the easiest way for them, and I said I didn't think so."
Manley's case eventually came to the attention of Dr. Momen Wahidi, director of interventional pulmonology at Duke. Wahidi, who mostly works with cancer patients to remove tumors from their lung airways, told Manley he would try extracting the object using a rigid bronchoscope. The procedure would allow Wahidi to insert a camera and other instruments to examine and remove the mystery object.
Wahidi said he still remembers his staff's amazement in the operating room when they pulled it out.
"We're looking at it and realizing that there are letters on it ... We started reading out loud, 'A-M-B-U-R-G-E-R,' and realized it spelled, 'hamburgers.'
"Everybody was shocked. We had no clue why something that said, 'hamburgers' would be in someone's lung," he said.
They had read a side of the plastic that spelled Wendy's motto of "Old Fashioned Hamburgers."
Wahidi said foreign objects in the lungs are much more common in children, but he's extracted false teeth, nails, and even a peanut from adults who have held the items in their mouth and accidentally sucked them in. Patients often don't realize there's a problem until their bodies begin to react.
But Wahidi said the piece of plastic was a first.
"It's definitely one of the weirdest things I've removed in my career," he said.
Manley said he's unsure if he will contact officials from Wendy's, based in Dublin, Ohio. Wendy's spokesman Denny Lynch said he has never heard of a situation like this in his 29 years with the company. He said company officials would contact Manley at the appropriate time.
"We're as quizzed by the whole situation as everyone else is," he said. "This is quite a surprise that this could even happen."
Manley said there's a huge difference in his quality of life days after the surgery.
"I can breathe now," the father of three adult daughters said of his recovery. "I can get up and walk my dog. I couldn't do that before. I was pretty much house-ridden."
Wahidi said he will meet with Manley in a month for a checkup, but he expects a full recovery.
"The body has an amazing ability to heal," Wahidi said. "Now that the object is out, his body should be able to recover and his airways should be back to normal."