Hospitals across the country are increasingly performing double lung transplants for critically ill coronavirus patients.
Many people who contract COVID-19 have so much scars and damage to their lungs that their hope for survival is a new set of organs.
At least 11 transplants have been reported nationwide, including New Mexico, Texas, Wisconsin, Florida in patients aged 28 years and 62 years.
And Northwestern Medicine in Chicago, which became the first center in the US to perform a double lung transplant for a COVID-19 patient, performed more than half of the operations for a total of seven.
Doctors say at least three more transplants are planned at the hospital, and believe the surgeries may become the standard in the future for patients who are close to death.
Kari Wegg, 48, of Westfield, Indiana, is one of seven people in the United States who underwent a double lung transplant at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago after battling COVID-19. Pictured: Wegg after her double lung transplant
A total of at least 11 were performed, and the first patient was Mayra Ramirez, a 28-year-old Chicago native (left) who was on a ventilator for six weeks before being given a new set of lungs. Others include patients like Andrew Lawrence, 54 (right), an ambulance doctor from Texas who had to move for the operation.
"A lung transplant is kind of the ultimate end-of-line therapy for Covid-related complications," said Dr. Samuel Kim, chest surgeon at Northwestern Medicine, told DailyMail.com.
& # 39; Not obvious Everyone needs a lung transplant … pSome people do and some people don't.
“They are the sickest patients doing transplants, but we are Perhaps more patients with chronic lung destruction will go through this procedure … it could be thousands or tens of thousands. & # 39;
Lung transplants are much more difficult for COVID-19 patients due to the severity of the damage to the organ from the virus.
Also, doctors must wait for the virus to clear the body but make sure the patient's organs are not failing.
In a national ranking system of 100 that tracks how sick transplant patients are, COVID-19 patients typically range between 80 and 90.
Dr. Ankit Bharat, chief of thoracic surgery and surgical director of Northwestern Medicine's lung transplant program, told DailyMail.com that the damage to her lungs looked like a bomb explosion.
He said that for most non-COVID patients undergoing a lung transplant, the structure of the lungs is still so well preserved that doctors can identify all parts.
But coronavirus patients often have so much damage and complications such as collapsed lungs that only pieces of necrotic tissue and pus sacs remain.
Kim added, “Their bodies barely keep them alive. There is some kind of destruction to the lungs that I have never seen in my life. & # 39;
Due to the risks of the procedure, the team was initially skeptical about performing lung transplants on coronavirus patients.
That changed, however, in June when Mayra Ramirez, 28, from Chicago, who had been on a ventilator for six weeks and her lungs showed signs of irreversible damage.
In April, Ramirez developed signs of the virus such as diarrhea, loss of taste and smell, and a fever. After visiting the emergency room, she tested positive for COVID-19 and was put on a ventilator shortly afterwards. Pictured: Ramirez at the hospital on the left and on the right after her transplant
Her mother agreed to have doctors do the transplant, and five months later, Ramirez (pictured) says she is feeling fine
In late April, Ramirez began to develop symptoms such as diarrhea, loss of taste and smell, and a fever.
She visited the emergency room in the northwest, where staff checked her vital signs and found that her oxygen levels were extremely low.
& # 39; The biggest decision was when We saw her picture when she wasn't sick. Her picture with her mother when she was at work, ”Kim said.
& # 39; You was a young beautiful woman who was so full of life a few weeks ago in her 20s. That's when we realized that we had to do something radically different.
"This was the only chance she had … I thought it was a risk worth taking."
The operation was a success and although the road to recovery was long and difficult, Ramirez says she is fine.
Two weeks ago, she shared on Facebook: & # 39; (Five) months since I received my new lungs due to Covid-19. Time has passed! Happy (five) month breath for me. & # 39;
However, not all patients are local. Some patients are from another state and will have to move for a year.
Wegg (pictured with her husband) tested positive for the virus in July and her health began to deteriorate rapidly
Ten weeks after the positive test, Wegg (left and right) was transferred to the northwest and received a double lung transplant. She is currently recovering and hopes to see her sons again in person soon
One of these patients is Kari Wegg, 48, a Newborn Intensive Care Unit (NICU) nurse from Westfield, Indiana, who became the sixth patient in the Northwest to receive a transplant.
Wegg tested positive for COVID-19 in July and developed symptoms such as shortness of breath and loss of taste and smell.
Her husband Rodney and their two sons, ages 13 and 14, also contracted the virus, but developed mild or no symptoms.
I got seriously ill. My lungs weren't working properly, ”Wegg told DailyMail.com.
“I was at the highest level of support they had. In the end, I needed a cardiopulmonary bypass machine. & # 39;
Called ECMO (Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation) machines, these machines pump and oxygenate a patient's blood outside of the body, allowing the heart and lungs to rest.
One of the doctors at Wegg's home hospital – St. Vincent & # 39; s – said there was no hope of her recovery and of unplugging.
However, the day before her birthday, she was taken to Northwestern Hospital and only spent a few days on the transplant list.
On October 2nd, ten weeks after the first positive test, Wegg woke up with new lungs.
"I told her, 'These lungs are your birthday present,' and she said, 'Well, one lung is for my birthday and the other is for your birthday," Rodney told DailyMail.com.
"And I said," No, these lungs are your birthday present and you are alive is my birthday present. "
The mother of two, currently expected to be in rehab for three to four weeks, says the first thing she looks forward to is hugging her sons.
She said she would like to urge anyone who diligently washes their hands, wears a mask and stays at home if possible – and signs up as an organ donor.
"You can save so many people's lives if people just did that," Wegg said.
"I am really and extremely grateful to my organ donor's family because I might not be alive without them."
In July, after Lawrence tested positive, he was soon rushed to a San Antonio hospital where he was told he was likely to need a double lung transplant in Chicago. Pictured: Lawrence after his transplant
Lawrence is the fifth patient to have a double lung transplant in the Northwest. He recently managed to run on a treadmill for a minute (picture).
Another patient, 54-year-old Andrew Lawrence, likely contracted the virus while treating patients at a hospital in the Rio Grande Valley.
When Lawrence fell ill in July and subsequently tested positive, he believed he would recover within two weeks.
Soon after, he was rushed to a San Antonio hospital where he was told he was likely to need a double lung transplant but would have to go to Chicago
Lawrence was the fifth patient to undergo a double lung transplant in the Northwest and was recently able to run for a minute on a treadmill.
Bharat told DailyMail.com that this was an encouraging sign as Lawrence was on his way to returning to his previous level of activity like patients before him.
"One of the things we've learned from caring for these patients, even with the seven transplants we've done, is that the variety is enormous," he said.
“That reminded us that Covid can affect anyone. While the young healthy people are less likely to get it, their risk isn't zero. & # 39;
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