For many days, a woman in her 20s was admitted to Chicago’s Northwestern Memorial Hospital. She reportedly was the most critical patient in the ward, perhaps the whole hospital. She spent 6-weeks on a ventilator, just existing, machines doing the work of breathing for her.
“COVID19 is unlike anything we’ve seen before. One minute, the patient is up and talking, and the next minute, their oxygen levels are rapidly decreasing and they’re being placed on a ventilator. There’s still so much we have yet to learn,” Dr Ankit Bharat, chief of thoracic surgery at the Northwestern Medicine Lung Transplant Program was quoted as saying.
As most are aware by now, the COVID-19 virus wreaks havoc in a patient’s respiratory system, many times fatally so. Especially for people afflicted with other underlying ailments, are at greater risk, as researches are revealing. But this case of a woman in her 20’s baffled doctors.
For this patient, however, she did not have much serious underlying sickness, but after contracting the dreaded virus, her condition deteriorated steadily, to the point that she developed fibrosis (a condition where a person’s air sac gets destroyed because of the scarring of the tissues in lungs), Dr Bharat told AFP.
“Her lungs just showed no signs of recovery, in fact they had started to develop terminal fibrosis.”
Opting for a double lung transplant was the last resort left. The patient, however, had to be tested negative until the operation could be done. Fortunately, within 48 hours of listing her for a transplant, they were able to find her match, according to the hospital’s Twitter handle.
The patient’s lungs had developed holes that were directly attributed to COVID-19. She could barely breathe without life support. At such a critical stage, the transplant operation was especially difficult to carry out, according to reports.
Dr Bharat claimed that despite having conducted several lungs transplant in the past, this was uniquely different and took a long ten hours against the normal six hours for such surgeries. The level of difficulty was attributed to the fact that the patient’s lungs were stuck to the adjoining areas on account of the fibrosis.
First successful double lung transplant in the USA
Irrespective of the odds, her operation has been successful, making it the first case of double lungs transplant on a COVID-19 patient in the US. A similar operation was carried in China on a 60-years old patient in March.
She is stable and conscious now and was reported as having face-timed her family from the ICU. “Yesterday, the patient smiled and told me, ‘Thank you for not giving up on me,’ Dr Bharat was quoted as saying. According to him, there’s nothing more gratifying to hear and they do what they do for this.
Doctors are hoping to discharge her within the coming weeks as she is recouping from the surgery through a tracheostomy (a procedure where the patient breathes through a hole in their throats fitted with a breathing aid).
The success of the operation reportedly creates a horizon of hope for other patients suffering a similar crisis. With the world battling the devastating COVID pandemic, success such as these, keeps us hoping for better days to come.
Dr Bharat also said: “hope that we can operate on many more patients who are now stuck on the ventilator because their lungs have been permanently destroyed.” The success of this operation definitely attests to his claim.
Fingers crossed for the days ahead. Dr Bharat hails from India is now settled in the US and was trained under G. Alexander Patterson who headed the world’s first double lung transplant in Toronto in 1986.
(Cover image courtesy of @NMHC_News via Twitter)