The first COVID-19 patient in the United States to receive a double lung transplant was discharged from the hospital this week, according to news reports.
After coronavirus inflicted irreversible damage to her lungs, 28-year-old Myra Ramirez underwent a transplant on June 5, Live Science previously reportedTo qualify for the procedure, she must first test negative for virus, as transplant patients must take immunosuppressive drugs after surgery. Medications do not allow the body to reject the new organ, but they swell immune systemthe ability to fight an active infection.
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Ramirez woke up after 10 hours of surgery with “all these tubes” coming out of her – “I just couldn’t recognize my own body,” she said New York TimesBefore the operation, Ramirez spent six weeks in intensive care unit (ICU) of a ventilator and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation apparatus (ECMO) that pumps oxygenated blood through the body when the heart and lungs cannot do so on their own.
“I don’t remember anything during my six weeks at COVID ICU. When I finally woke up, it was mid-June and I had no idea why I was in a hospital bed,” Ramirez said in a statement from Northwestern. When she finally woke up, her sisters asked if she knew the date, and Ramirez guessed it was early May, according to the Times. She managed to return home on July 29.
Ramirez has to take rejection medication for the rest of her life, but as she is young and healthy, “she will continue to grow stronger and healthier,” her surgeon, Dr. Ankit Bharat, told the New York Times. After lung transplants, more than 85% to 90% of patients survive one year and can function independently in everyday life, Live Science previously reported. About 50% of lung transplant recipients survive at least five years after the procedure, and there are reports of some people living 20 years or more, according to National Health Service of the United Kingdom,,
“She asked if she could take a parachute. We will probably get her there in a few months,” Bharat told Ramirez.
Following Ramirez’s transplant, Northwestern performed a second double lung transplant on Brian Koons, a 62-year-old coronavirus patient.
“Myra and Brian would not be living today without double lung transplants,” Bharat said in a statement. “COVID-19 completely destroyed theirs lungsand they were critically ill to enter the transplant procedure, making it a discouraging endeavor. “The procedure usually takes six to seven hours, but both Koons and Ramirez underwent 10 hours of surgery because there was so much inflammation and dead tissue in their lungs.
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And with Kuhns and Ramirez recovering now, Northwestern has two additional COVID-19 patients awaiting double lung transplants, and the hospital is consulting with other transplant centers on how to approach the difficult operation, the Times reported.
“It will be a challenge for doctors to determine which patients are really candidates and what the timing is,” said Dr. Thiago Machuca, a thoracic surgeon at the University of Florida’s Health Shands Hospital in Gainesville. A COVID-19 patient transferred from another condition recently received a double lung transplant at Shands Hospital, he noted.
“We don’t want to do it too early when the patient can still recover from COVID’s lung disease and resume a good quality of life, but you also don’t want to miss the boat and have a patient where it’s useless.” the patient is too sick, “he said.
“I think people need to recognize this option sooner and just start talking about it before they get to that point,” Bharat told the Times.
Originally published in Live Science.