Last month the NYU Langone Transplant Institute achieved a milestone lung transplant procedure: its first for a patient whose lungs were irretrievably damaged by the coronavirus, and its 100th lung transplant since the program launched in January 2018. This also marks a nationwide record for the most lung transplants performed by a program within 3 years of opening; the previous record was 75, according to data from the United Network of Organ Sharing.
The transplant, performed on December 10, provided two new lungs to a patient who had been hospitalized for seven months with a severe case of COVID-19. Though she never required mechanical support such as a ventilator or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), her lungs had been severely damaged by the respiratory disease and required high-flow oxygen for more than seven months.
The first double lung transplant for a patient with COVID-19 in the United States was performed in June 2020. “Transplantation is a permanent intervention; we waited to be sure there was no potential recovery for this patient’s lungs before listing her for transplant,” says Luis Angel, MD, professor in the Departments of Medicine and Cardiothoracic Surgery and medical director of NYU Langone’s lung transplant program, in a statement. “We’re hopeful that with her double lung transplant, she will be able to regain the quality of life she had before COVID.”
The patient, a 40-year-old Queens resident, first became ill in April 2020. She was treated initially at another hospital in New York City and transferred to NYU Langone in October 2020 to be evaluated for transplant. She received the successful double lung transplant two months after being placed on the transplant list soon after her transfer. She was discharged home from rehabilitation on January 3.
The operation was performed by Stephanie Chang, MD, assistant professor of cardiothoracic surgery and surgical director of NYU Langone’s lung transplant program. “The Transplant Institute has taken on high-risk patients since its inception, and providing this option to some of our sickest COVID patients is aligned with that goal,” says Chang. “While transplant surgeries for COVID patients may be more complicated based on the lung damage that occurred, our team is ready to take on the toughest cases to help those most affected by this pandemic.”
Angel estimates that a small but still significant number of patients recovering from COVID-19 will qualify for a lung transplant. “As we have yet to learn all the long-term effects of COVID on the body, it’s important for us to follow patients after they leave the hospital, to monitor for lung function and ensure they’re getting the follow-up care they need,” Angel says.