Lung transplant recipient at University of Michigan gets COVID-19 from donor, dies two months later – MLive.com

ANN ARBOR, MI — A woman who received a double lung transplant at the University of Michigan died two months later after contracting COVID-19 from the donor’s lungs, according to a study in the American Journal of Transplantation.

This is the first known case of donor-to-recipient transmission of COVID-19, according to Daniel Kaul, the study’s author and professor of internal medicine at UM.

The organ donor was a woman from the upper Midwest who suffered a severe brain injury in a car crash, the study states, adding that the woman quickly progressed to brain death during a two-day hospital admission.

Doctors performed COVID-19 testing within 48 hours of acquiring the organs for transplant and testing came back negative, according to the study. CT scans of the lungs showed no evidence to suggest COVID-19, and nose and throat swabs were negative, Kaul said.

“Family was not aware of any donor symptoms or exposure suggestive of COVID-19, so (the donor) was asymptomatic as best we can tell,” Kaul said.

The lung recipient was tested for COVID-19 12 hours before the transplant and her test came back negative, the study notes. There were no complications with the procedure, but the recipient developed several complications days after.

The recipient then received an initial positive COVID-19 test, so doctors checked residual fluid they had available from deep in the donor lungs, which was obtained prior to acquiring the organs, and that tested positive, as well, Kaul said.

The recipient died 61 days after the transplant, according to the study. She was still COVID-19 positive 60 days after the transplant, the study states.

Unexpected transmission of infection from donor to recipient is uncommon, occurring in fewer than 1% of transplant recipients, according to the study. However, emerging pathogens create particular challenges in assessing disease transmission risk, including recent diseases like H1N1, West Nile virus, Ebola and Zika, the study notes.

Four days after the transplant operation, a thoracic surgeon tested positive for COVID-19, according to the study. The surgeon was not present at the time of procurement but prepared the lungs for implantation and performed the transplant procedure, the study states.

No other exposed health care worker was diagnosed with COVID-19 linked to this event, the study states. No other organs were donated in the case and the study has no information on the risk of transmission to non-lung recipients.

This kind of incident shouldn’t make anyone fearful of donating life-saving organs, Kaul said.

“I think it’s very important that patients with organ failure waiting for a transplant do not take this as a reason to turn down an organ,” Kaul said. “This is a rare event and the first noted in almost 40,000 transplants done in calendar year 2020. The risks of organ failure not treated by transplant is far greater than the risk of getting COVID-19 from a donor.”

There was a large reduction in the number of transplants at UM, and across the nation in spring 2020, but it has since returned to normal levels, Kaul said.


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