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When the National Foundation for Transplants opened its COVID-19 Response Center in April, it was to help transplant patients navigate financial challenges during a difficult time.  Patients who had either received their transplant or were waiting for their second chance at life all suffered from known conditions that necessitated this life-saving procedure.

Recently, a new medical threat is driving doctors to consider organ transplants as a necessary procedure to save lives.   

The first treatment of its kind to combat the new coronavirus was used to treat a woman in her 20s.  The patient, who was previously healthy, lungs were devastated by the coronavirus.  Doctors at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago recently reported performing the first known lung transplant in the United States to treat Covid-19.  The transplant raises hope for other patients whose lungs have been destroyed by the virus.

The patient and her family asked to remain anonymous to protect their privacy.  However, it was revealed the patient is Hispanic, an ethnic group hit extremely hard by COVID-19.  Also revealed, the patient–while having no serious underlying medical condition that placed her at high risk of contracting the virus–was taking medication that somewhat suppressed her immune system.

Dr. Ankit Bharat was interviewed by reporter, Denise Grady for the New York Times.  Bharat serves as the chief of thoracic surgery and surgical director of the lung transplant program at Northwestern Medicine, which includes Northwestern Memorial Hospital.

Here are highlights from the interview:

  • The surgery lasted 10 hours, several hours longer than most lung transplants because the surgery was more difficult than most transplants of this type.
  • Inflammation from the disease had left the patient’s lungs completely plastered to tissue around them, the heart, the chest wall and diaphragm.
  • The patient remains on a ventilator even though the transplanted lungs are healthy. COVID-19 left her chest muscles too weak for breathing, and recovery will take time.
  • A lung transplant is not for every COVID patient. It should be considered for those who are relatively young, very functional, with minimal to no comorbid conditions, and who have suffered permanent lung damage who can’t get off the ventilator.

The good news, said Bharat, is the patient has been retested for COVID-19 and the results are negative.  She’s awake, smiling, and using FaceTime to chat with her family.

If you or a loved one is in need of a life-saving transplant but face overwhelming financial challenges related to cost share, contact the National Foundation for Transplants to learn if we can help.  If you desire to provide financial assistance to fellow Americans needing a transplant during these uncertain times, we invite you to make a donation to help those most vulnerable receive a second chance at life.

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