Surgeons at Chicago hospital perform one of the world’s first double-lung transplants on a COVID patient using organs from a donor who previously tested positive for the virus
- The patient, an Illinois healthcare worker in his 60s, tested positive for COVID-19 in May 2020
- He became so ill that he was put on life support and transferred to Northwestern Medicine in February, where he was placed on the lung transplant list
- Within a week, he was matched with a donor who had recovered from the virus before dying due to an unrelated cause
- Surgeons performed a lung biopsy on the donor organs and tested lung fluid to make sure the donor had completely cleared the virus
- The surgery was successful and is believed to be among the world’s first ‘Covid to Covid’ lung transplants
A Chicago hospital says doctors have successfully performed one of the world’s first double-lung transplants on a COVID-19 patient using the organs of a donor who had recovered from the disease.
Surgeons at Northwestern Medicine said the recipient was diagnosed with coronavirus last year and eventually became so sick that he was on life support and in dire need of a transplant.
The lungs came from a donor who previously tested positive for the virus, but only experienced mild symptoms – and recuperated – before dying of an unrelated cause.
Doctors have previously stated that the risky surgeries may become a standard procedure for COVID-19 patients who are on the brink of death.
An Illinois man in his 60s became so ill from COVID-19 he was put on life support and transferred to Northwestern Medicine in February, where he was placed on the lung transplant list (left). Within a week, he was matched with a donor who had recovered from the virus before dying due to an unrelated cause (right)
Surgeons performed a lung biopsy on the donor organs and tested lung fluid to make sure the donor had completely cleared the virus. Pictured: A team of surgeons at Northwestern Medicine
‘This is a milestone for lung transplantation,’ said Dr Ankit Bharat, an associate professor of surgery at Northwestern who performed the transplant, in a news release.
‘To date, 30 million Americans have had COVID-19 and many of them are registered organ donors.
‘If we say “no” to them just because they had COVID-19 in the past, we will drastically reduce the donor pool and there’s already a big supply and demand gap.’
The patient, an Illinois man in his 60s who is a healthcare worker, first contracted coronavirus in May 2020.
He eventually became so ill that he was placed on an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine.
It pumps and oxygenates a patient’s blood outside the body, which allows the heart and lungs to rest.
In February 2021, he was transferred to Northwestern Medicine, where he was placed on the transplant list.
Lung transplants are much more difficult for COVID-19 patients to undergo because of the severity of damage the virus does to the organs.
Additionally, doctors have to wait for the virus to clear the body but make sure the patient’s organs don’t fail.
On a national ranking system out of 100, which tracks how sick transplant patients are, COVID-19 patients usually fall between 80 and 90.
Within a week, the patient matched with a donor, who had tested positive for COVID-19 in the past, but experienced mild symptoms.
He or she recovered from the illness before dying of an unknown cause. Because their lungs were not damaged from the virus, it made the organs usable for transplantation.
However, there are risks that come using the lungs of a donor who has had the disease.
Last fall, a Michigan woman contracted a severe case of COVID-19 from the new set of lungs she received from a double-lung transplant. Two months later, she died.
To make sure this wouldn’t occur with their patient, the Northwestern team tested the donor’s lung fluid to make sure they had cleared the virus and performed a lung biopsy.
‘If the swab and lung fluid both come back clear of the virus and the lung biopsy confirms there’s no permanent damage to the lungs, we can feel confident in the quality of the donor lungs,’ said Bharat.
‘Our first “COVID to COVID” patient received beautiful, healthy lungs and continues to recover at optimal pace.”
Since the pandemic began, Northwestern Medicine estimates it has performed 14 double lung transplants on COVID-19 survivors, which it claims is the most in the U.S.