Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago announced Thursday that doctors there performed a double lung transplant on a young woman infected with coronavirus, in what could be a model used for some other seriously ill patients.
Doctors said that they hope the woman can make a full recovery after what the hospital said was one of the first lung transplants for a coronavirus patient.
“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,” Ankit Bharat, surgical director of the Northwestern Medicine Lung Transplant Program, said in a statement.
Doctors said the lung transplant was the only chance of survival for the patient, a Hispanic woman in her 20s, given how damaged her lungs were. She had spent six weeks on a ventilator and a life support machine called an ECMO.
The hospital said the woman had been healthy, adding to the mystery around how she got so sick.
“How did a healthy woman in her 20s get to this point?” Rade Tomic, medical director of the lung transplant program, said in a statement. “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.”
Bharat told The New York Times that the procedure is not for everyone who is seriously ill with coronavirus.
“I want to emphasize that this is not for every COVID patient,” he 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.”
Adding to the challenge, the woman had to clear coronavirus from her system and test negative before she could get the transplant.
“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,” said Tomic.