The hospital said it believes this is the first time such an operation on a Covid-19 patient has been performed successfully in the United States, and it offers new hope for patients with extensive lung damage from coronavirus infection.
The patient, a Hispanic woman in her 20s, spent six weeks on a ventilator and an ECMO machine while in the hospital’s intensive care unit as her body fought the coronavirus infection.
“For many days, she was the sickest person in the COVID ICU — and possibly the entire hospital,” Dr. Beth Malsin, pulmonary and critical care specialist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital, said in a press release Thursday.
“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,” Malsin said. “One of the most exciting times was when the first coronavirus test came back negative and we had the first sign she may have cleared the virus to become eligible for a life-saving transplant.”
Yet by early June, the patient’s lungs showed signs of irreversible damage due to her illness — her lungs were damaged beyond repair, according to the hospital. Doctors quickly listed the woman for a double lung transplant once it was confirmed that she tested negative for Covid-19, and the transplantation operation was performed 48 hours later.
“A lung transplant was her only chance for survival,” Dr. Ankit Bharat, chief of thoracic surgery and surgical director at the Northwestern Medicine Lung Transplant Program, said in a press release Thursday.
“We are one of the first health systems to successfully perform a lung transplant on a patient recovering from COVID-19,” Bharat said. “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.”
Now the medical team wants to learn more about the patient’s sickness and recovery.
“How did a healthy woman in her 20s get to this point?” Dr. Rade Tomic, a pulmonologist and medical director of the Lung Transplant Program, said in the press release.
“There’s still so much we have yet to learn about COVID-19. Why are some cases worse than others? The multidisciplinary research team at Northwestern Medicine is trying to find out,” Tomic said. “While this young woman still has a long and potentially risky road to recovery given how sick she was with multi-organ dysfunction for weeks preceding the transplant, we hope she will make a full recovery.”