Houston Chronicle: Double Lung Transplant, One of Nation’s First, Saves COVID-19 Patient


Double Lung Transplant, One of Nation’s First, Saves COVID-19 Patient

Houston Chronicle - by Todd Ackerman, Staff Writer 

"When Memorial Hermann Hospital in The Woodlands allowed some of Francisco Medellin’s family to visit him from a window outside the intensive care unit last month, they all feared it might be the last time they’d see him.

Medellin, 69, contracted COVID-19 in June and despite interventions with the logical treatments, the disease ravaged his lungs, leaving him unable to breathe on his own. After a month of no progress, doctors told the family that there was little hope of him recovering.

“It was really sad,” said Maria Medellin, one of his daughters. “We thought the only thing we could do was pray. We hoped for a miracle.”

Medellin got a miracle of sorts, a double lung transplant, one of the first in the United States for the disease caused by the coronavirus. Typically, a last-ditch effort for people with seemingly fatal, irreversible lung damage, such transplants are now on the radar for COVID-19 patients who are both acutely ill enough to need one and otherwise healthy enough to benefit from a transplant for a protracted period of time.

Medellin qualified on both counts. He got two new lungs at Memorial Hermann’s flagship hospital in the Texas Medical Center on Aug. 27, just a day after he’d gone on the donor transplant waiting list, and by last week he was in rehab. Doctors expect he’ll be ready for discharge next week.

He got the lungs quickly — the average wait time is three months — because his heart and lung function, oxygen requirements and other metrics were worse than most others on the list. The organ became available from a deceased patient at Memorial Hermann, one of the nation’s biggest trauma centers and donor hospitals.

A more common intervention?

Lung transplantation is expected to become a more common intervention for COVID-19 at U.S. transplant centers, though its use will be limited by the fact people hit hardest by the disease tend to have underlying health problems that make them ineligible for a donor organ. Still, Memorial Hermann doctors say they are now on the lookout for candidates and have identified a few.

“It’s a real sweet spot the doctors will need to identify,” said Chris Curran, vice president of organ operations at LifeGift, a not-for-profit organ procurement organization that recovers organs and tissue for individuals needing transplants in Houston and some other parts of Texas. “Might the patient recover without a lung transplant? Might the patient be too sick to benefit for long? Might any delay in decision-making render the transplant no longer viable? Doctors will have to straddle a tightrope.”

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