The New York Times Company
A young woman whose lungs were destroyed by the coronavirus received a double lung transplant last week at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, the hospital reported on Thursday, the first known lung transplant in the United States for COVID-19.
The 10-hour surgery was more difficult and took several hours longer than most lung transplants because inflammation from the disease had left the woman’s lungs “completely plastered to tissue around them, the heart, the chest wall and diaphragm,” said Dr. Ankit Bharat, the chief of thoracic surgery and surgical director of the lung transplant program at Northwestern Medicine, which includes Northwestern Memorial Hospital, in an interview.
He said the patient, a woman in her 20s who had no serious underlying medical conditions, was recovering well: “She’s awake, she’s smiling, she FaceTimed with her family.”
But she has a long way to go. She is still on a ventilator because even though the transplanted lungs are healthy, her long illness has left her chest muscles too weak for breathing.
The transplant was her only chance for survival, Bharat said. His team wanted other transplant centers to know that the operation could save some desperately ill COVID-19 patients.
He said that other medical centers had been calling to find out about the operation and that some wanted to send COVID-19 patients to Northwestern for lung transplants.
“I want to emphasize that this is not for every COVID patient,” Bharat said. “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 also said that doctors were closely monitoring COVID-19 survivors who had been on ventilators with severe lung damage, to see whether they recover fully or have scarring in the lungs that might eventually lead them also to need transplants.
The patient was ill for about two weeks before being admitted to the hospital on April 26. She soon needed a ventilator. Her condition kept worsening, and doctors connected her to a machine that pumps oxygen directly into the bloodstream.
“You have someone in their 20s, who’s otherwise healthy, this poor girl,” Bharat said. “The whole team felt it’s hard to let someone go like that. We wanted to give her every option. Everybody was just rooting for her.”