GAINESVILLE, Fla. – A first-of-its-kind procedure in the Southeast — a double-lung transplant — by UF Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville has given a COVID-19 survivor a second chance at life.
The patient, a man in his 50s from Texas, tested positive for COVID-19 in April and the virus significantly damaged his lungs. Once it became clear that the damage from the virus to the lungs was permanent, a double transplant option was put on the table. UF Health said it was the first successful surgery of its kind in the Southeast region on a patient who has survived COVID-19.
“This treatment brings much-needed hope that other selected patients struggling with coronavirus or its aftereffects can have a second chance,” said Dr. Tiago Machuca, chief of the division of thoracic surgery and surgical director of the lung transplant program. “But this disease and its impact on the body certainly require further understanding.”
Machuca said that the patient was critically ill and unable to stand on his own due to the virus. He said that there are many things that medical professionals still don’t understand about COVID-19 and that it was difficult to diagnose initially if the patient’s condition was reversible.
“When he came to us, he was 100% dependent on ECMO [Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation machine], a form of life support, for more than two months,” Machuca said. “Our goal was to use the initial time he was under our care to not only optimize his transplant candidacy but also investigate if his lung condition was truly end-stage.”
The patient was treated and underwent therapy to help regain an ability to function in daily activities. Surgeons eventually determined that his lungs were permanently damaged due to the virus and the viability of a double lung transplant became an option.
“This was someone who had survived a terrible virus but at a high cost to his body,” said Dr. Abbas Shahmohammadi, an assistant professor of medicine in the UF College of Medicine and a lung transplant specialist on the team.
He spent more than three months on the ECMO before a pair of donor lungs became available. The patient underwent the procedure and it was deemed a success. He remains recovering from the procedure.
“Our team works from a multidisciplinary perspective,” said Dr. Andres Pelaez, M.D.medical director of the lung transplant program and an associate professor of medicine in the UF College of Medicine.
“We witnessed the way in which the virus had completely destroyed his lungs, and while his frailty was initially significant, we saw how determined he was and knew he could benefit from lung transplantation as we watched him become less frail over time.”