Lung transplant saved life of US coronavirus patient, surgeons say

A Chicago woman who survived the Covid-19 pandemic  received a double-lung transplant last week at Northwestern Memorial hospital, the medical facility confirmed Thursday. The woman, who is in her 20s, is the first known lung transplant patient in the United States during the outbreak resulting from lungs being destroyed by the coronavirus.

“She’s awake, she’s smiling, she FaceTimed with her family,” Dr Ankit Bharat, chief of thoracic surgery and surgical director of the lung transplant program at Northwestern Medicine, told the New York Times.

Bharat added the woman had no serious underlying medical conditions. She has a long way to go, but is recovering.

The 10-hour surgery took several hours longer than expected because inflammation left the patient’s lungs “completely plastered to tissue around them, the heart, the chest wall and diaphragm”.

Hospital authorities said the young woman was still on a ventilator. Although the transplanted lungs are healthy, the virus has left the patient’s chest muscles too weak for independent breathing.

Bharat said the transplant was her only chance for survival. However, the medical team emphasized that even though the operation could save some desperately ill coronavirus patients, the transplant option “is not for every Covid patient”.

“We are talking about patients who are relatively young, very functional, with minimal to no comorbid conditions, with permanent lung damage who can’t get off the ventilator,” he said, noting that other medical centers had been calling to find out about the operation.

Some expressed wanting to send Covid-19 patients to the hospital for lung transplants. For those patients, Bharat added, the news of a successful transplant “absolutely could start something”.

It’s not the first time doctors have used lung transplantation to save a Covid patient. Doctors in Vienna said a 45-year-old woman whose lungs were “damaged beyond repair” became the first European patient to survive that operation.

According to a statement by the hospital, the woman developed severe respiratory failure eight weeks after contracting the virus.

Walter Kleptko, who leads the Medical University of Vienna’s department of surgery, said thanks to a “highly complicated” lung transplant, the woman survived “an otherwise hopeless situation”.

In Italy, a patient who had just turned 18 two weeks before the pandemic first broke out, spent a total of 58 days hooked up to life support machines before receiving a double lung transplant. Doctors later confirmed she was fully “awake and fully cooperative”.