Northwestern Medicine

A young woman has received a double lung transplant after the coronavirus caused severe damage to the organ.

Northwestern Medicine announced the procedure on Thursday, which took place last Friday.

The procedure marked the first known lung transplant in the United States due to effects from Covid-19. Other transplants for the virus have been reported in China and Europe.

Surgeons revealed the surgery lasted 10 hours and was more difficult than a regular lung transplant because of the damage to the organ. The virus left the woman’s lungs “completely plastered to tissue around them, the heart, the chest wall and diaphragm,” said Dr Ankit Bharat, who performed the surgery, in an interview.

The patient is in her 20s and was on a ventilator for two months before the surgery happened.

“I hope that this becomes more common because I truly believe that we can save several patients,” Dr Bharat said.

The surgery proved to be a success with the woman, who had no underlying medical conditions prior to contracting Covid-19, recovering well. “She’s awake, she’s smiling, she FaceTimed with her family,” the doctor said.

She remains on a ventilator, though, as the virus has significantly weakened the chest muscles that promote breathing.

Dr Bharat said the transplant was the woman’s only chance of survival.

“I want to emphasise that this is not for every Covid patient,” Dr. Bharat said. “We are talking about patients who are relatively young, very functional, with minimal to no comorbid conditions, with permanent lung damage who can’t get off the ventilator.”

The woman’s identity has remained anonymous at the request of the family, but the hospital did reveal she recently moved to Chicago from North Carolina with her boyfriend.

She was ill with the virus for two weeks before being admitted to the hospital on 26 April.

Doctors waited six weeks for her body to clear the virus before they considered performing the transplant. At the time, her body was in critical shape, with signs that other organs like the heart, liver, and kidneys were starting to fail.

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Dr Bharat, whose hospital performs about 40 to 50 lung transplants per year, said the lung damage was among the worst he’s ever seen.

The woman is now expected to make a full recovery.

The lung transplant comes as the US tops two million coronavirus cases, according to Johns Hopkins University. Health experts warned earlier this week the death toll could top 200,000 by September.

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