Transplant surgeons at Northwestern Medicine say they have successfully performed one of the first known double-lung transplants on a Covid-19 patient using lungs from a donor who had previously tested positive for Covid-19.
“This is a milestone for lung transplantation,” Dr. Ankit Bharat, the transplant surgeon who performed the procedure, said in a news release.
“To date, 30 million Americans have had Covid-19 and many of them are registered organ donors. If we say ‘no’ to them just because they had Covid-19 in the past, we will drastically reduce the donor pool and there’s already a big supply and demand gap."
"We will have a massive problem on our hands if Americans can’t donate their organs after having a mild to moderate case of Covid-19," he said.
The donor recovered from the virus after experiencing only moderate symptoms but later died from a cause unrelated to Covid-19. The donor’s lungs were not damaged by the virus, making them viable for transplantation, according to the transplant team.
The team tested the donor’s lung fluid for Covid-19 and performed a lung biopsy to check for lung damage before performing the transplant.
The patient who received the lungs, an Illinois man in his 60s, was diagnosed with Covid-19 in May 2020. The patient became so sick that he was placed on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, a machine that does the work of both the heart and lungs. The patient received the transplant at the end of February after spending one week on the transplant list.
“Currently, many transplant centers are worried about the risk of transmission of Covid-19 from donors, particularly for lung transplants, and are unnecessarily discarding these organs,” Dr. Michael Ison, an infectious disease and organ transplant specialist at Northwestern Medicine, said. “This donor clarifies the safety of the use of these donors.”