Chicago doctors performed a rare operation. The patient’s organs were severely damaged by COVID-19. Now the young woman is breathing again—with two new lungs.
The unnamed patient is in her 20s. Doctors are withholding her name for privacy reasons. She was a fairly healthy adult. But her condition deteriorated rapidly after she was hospitalized with the novel coronavirus.
The patient battled COVID-19 for six weeks on a ventilator (breathing machine) and heart-lung machine.
COVID-19 is the disease caused by the new coronavirus. It can cause serious lung problems such as pneumonia and acute (severe) respiratory distress syndrome, or ARDS.
The Chicago patient’s lungs had suffered lasting damage from the virus. She needed a new set.
Lungs accounted for just 7% of the nearly 40,000 U.S. organ transplants last year. They’re hard to come by, and lung patients often wait weeks on a transplant list.
“For many days, she was the sickest person in the COVID ICU and possibly the entire hospital,” says Elizabeth S. Malsin, a heart and critical care specialist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
During the wait, the patient’s heart, kidneys, and liver began failing. But before doctors at Northwestern Medicine could put her on their transplant list, the patient had to test negative for COVID-19. If she still had the virus, it could damage her new lungs too. After weeks of testing and re-testing, doctors finally got a clear result.
Doctors put the patient on the organ donation list for not one but two new lungs. Within 48 hours, the lungs arrived.
The double lung transplant wasn’t the first procedure of its kind in the United States. But it was a first for a COVID-19 patient. Only a few other COVID-19 survivors, in China and Europe, have received such transplants.
The operation took 10 hours. The virus had left the patient’s lungs full of holes, says Dr. Ankit Bharat, who performed the procedure. He describes her lungs as “completely plastered” to her tissue and other organs.
In late June, the patient remained on a ventilator while her body healed. But she was well enough to visit with family via phone video. Doctors say the outlook for her to have a normal life is good.
“We are anticipating that she will have a full recovery,” says Dr. Rade Tomic, medical director of the hospital’s lung transplant program.
Dr. Bharat sees lung transplants as an option for other COVID-19 survivors. His team worked hard to give their suffering patient a chance to breathe again. He says, “Everybody was just rooting for her.”
Let everything that has breath praise the Lord! Praise the Lord! — Psalm 150:6