Three men who were seriously ill after contracting COVID-19 received double lung transplants in Maryland.
The procedure is giving some patients hope, though the need for organs is far greater than the pool of available donors. Lung transplant patients live, on average, six years after the operation.
John Micklus, of La Plata, Maryland, caught COVID-19 last Christmas. He spent weeks in the hospital, hooked up to machines as the virus attacked his lungs. As he neared death, his family learned of the potential for a double lung transplant at the University of Maryland Medical Center, in Baltimore.
An organ match was found within days, the surgery went well and he spent months in recovery.
“Thank God I’m here. I have an opportunity to live again,” Micklus said.
Another patient at the same hospital, who asked to go by Anthony, described a similar struggle. His lungs were so scarred from COVID-19 that he needed two new lungs and was running out of time.
“I thought I was in deep trouble, because I have an underlying condition with my lungs,” Anthony said.
His operation also went well, giving him a second chance.
UMMC performed a third double lung transplant on a 24-year-old man from Atlanta.
“From a respiratory standpoint, the transplant saved their life and they're both out of the hospital breathing on their own and living a good life, being able to exercise, and doing the things they want to do,” said Dr. Aldo Iacono, a pulmonologist and medical director of lung transplantation at UMMC. He was part of the team that cared for the men.
More COVID-19 patients need lung transplants than are able to get them, Iacono said.
“We have more patients that require a lung transplant to get them out of the hospital and off of machines. And we unfortunately don't have the resources in this country to treat all these patients,” he said.
About 2,000 lung transplants are performed in the United States each year. Overall, more than 100,000 Americans are on a waiting list for an organ transplant.
Lung transplant surgery is long and complicated, and the recovery isn’t easy. Patients need to do rehab and take medication for the rest of their lives. But without the surgeries, Iacono said, the men would have died.
“Luckily I got the opportunity for this,” Micklus, one of the transplant patients, said as he fought tears. “If it wasn’t for this hospital, I wouldn’t be here.”