CHICAGO — A Chicago woman received a double lung transplant at Northwestern Hospital to help her recover after battling coronavirus, the first time that’s been done in the United States for COVID-19.
The woman is in her 20s and was otherwise healthy, according to the hospital — but a photo shows how her lungs deteriorated during her sickness, leaving them brown and yellow. Her lungs had irreversible damage, according to a Thursday press release from Northwestern Hospital.
The hospital’s surgical director, Dr. Ankit Bharat, told The New York Times the disease left the woman’s lungs “completely plastered to the tissue around them, the heart, the chest wall and the diaphragm.”
The surgery was done last week and the woman is in recovery.
The woman, whom the hospital did not name, had coronavirus and was in the hospital’s intensive care unit for six weeks on a ventilator and life support, according to Northwestern Hospital. She was the sickest person in “possibly the entire hospital” for “many days,” Bharat said in the press release.
“A lung transplant was her only chance for survival,” Bharat said. “There were so many times, day and night, our team had to react quickly to help her oxygenation and support her other organs to make sure they were healthy enough to support a transplant if and when the opportunity came.”
The woman had to test negative for coronavirus before she could get the transplant — and when her results finally came back negative, it was “one of the most exciting times,” Bharat said in the press release.
The woman was listed for a double lung transplant and, two days later, surgeons performed the procedure.
“We want other transplant centers to know that while the transplant procedure in these patients is quite technically challenging, it can be done safely, and it offers the terminally ill COVID-19 patients another option for survival,” Bharat said in the press release.
COVID-19 can cause “significant damage to the lungs” of people who have severe cases, Dr. Michael Ison, an organ transplantation specialist at the hospital, said in the press release.
“Opening the door to patients who have recovered from the infection to lung transplantation offers a potential path to recovery,” Ison said.
Dr. Allison Arwady, head of the Chicago Department of Public Health, talked about the surgery during a Facebook Live discussion Thursday.
“If people don’t know, it is one of the most serious interventions you can have,” Arwady said. “It’s not common at all.”
Arwady said it’s not possible to give lung transplants to everyone with severe cases of COVID-19, and the woman will need to be on medication, including immunosuppressants.
But Arwady congratulated the hospital’s medical staff and said sent well wishes to the woman and her family as she recovers.
Separately, Arwady encouraged Chicagoans to keep wearing face coverings, practice social distancing and wash their hands. People who are sick, even if their symptoms are only mild, should stay home.
The doctor noted Chicago has begun to reopen more — it entered Phase 3 last week — and other places that reopened sooner have been seeing upticks in cases of coronavirus.
“Although we would love to think COVID is over, it is not over,” Arwady said.
So far, 2,313 people have died from coronavirus in Chicago and 48,725 people have had confirmed cases.
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