A medical milestone: For the first time ever, doctors have performed a double lung transplant on a COVID-19 patient from a donor who had the virus.
"I suspect we’re going to see more and more transplants after the feasibility of this one from donors who have a history of COVID in their past,” said Dr. Ankit Bharat, surgical director at Northwestern Medicine Lung Transplant Program.
Surgeons at Northwestern Medical Center in Chicago transplanted the lungs into a man in his 60s whose lungs were destroyed by the disease. The donor had recovered from a moderate case of COVID but later died from something else.
"We took that extra safety measure of taking biopsies of the donor lung. Slide under the microscope, there was no severe lung damage that was observed. All of those safety measures were taken to ensure it was an adequate donor,” said Dr. Rafael Garza-Castillon, thoracic surgeon at Northwestern Medicine.
The breakthrough isn’t just interesting, it’s significant. Doctors now believe organs may still be viable for transplant even if the donor had COVID-19 in the past.
“In these particular donors we believe that you have to test the lung fluid to make sure that the lungs are clear of the COVID. We carefully assess for any structural damage and any lingering effects of the COVID virus. Once those two things were checked, we decided to proceed with transplant,” Bharat said.
There have been dozens of other double lung transplants performed on people suffering from COVID. What’s different here is that the donor lungs came from someone who had recovered from disease. The transplant was completed in February.
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