Successful double-lung transplant in COVID-19 survivor at UF Health Shands Hospital

It’s the first successful procedure to be done in the southeast, a double-lung transplant in a COVID-19 survivor was performed at the University of Florida Health Shands Hospital.

Dying from COVID-19 complications, a healthy non-smoking Texas man in his 50s was transported to the University of Florida for a double-lung transplant surgery that could give him a second chance at life.

“The disease was very severe to his lungs and he needed mechanical ventilation,” said Dr. Tiago Machuca, the UF surgical director of the Lung Transplant Program.

Dr. Machuca said the patient contracted the virus in April and was hospitalized for pneumonia and other infections. 

He could no longer walk and ultimately went on life support for months.

“His disease was terminal,” Dr. Machuca said. “It was irreversible. It became clear to the entire team that a transplant was his only option.”

A double-lung transplant is a very rare, complex surgery that comes with high risk.

“Learning that we were going to consider a lung transplant for him, he was extremely grateful,” he said. “Of course there are risks of dying from the operation.”

The six hour operation was a success.

“You have a patient who is bed-bound,” Dr. Machuca said. “Over the period of a month, a team working to get him out of bed, walking him, and it got to a point he was doing laps in our unit. He was even putting. He has a passion for golf.”

The patient was just released from the hospital over the weekend, only two weeks after the surgery.

UF’s lung surgery program ranks 37th in the nation, according to U.S. News & World Report’s 2020-2021 Best Hospitals survey.

“We’re doing about 100 transplants a year now,” Dr. Machuca said.

The program is now receiving several inquiries a day from other COVID-19 cases around the country searching for lung transplants.

“I think it shows just how extreme things can get,” Dr. Machuca said. “The patient never smoked. He was a previously healthy patient that unfortunately developed coronavirus lung disease and was left with a very severe lung damage.”

Dr. Machuca said there is still much more to learn about how COVID-19 attacks the body and what long-term effects may be discovered.

There are only two other successful double-lung transplant surgeries for COVID-19 survivors. 

Those patients were treated at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.