Historic transplant performed on critically-ill Covid patient using lungs of donor who previously had virus

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CHICAGO — Doctors at Northwestern Medicine have made medical history after a breakthrough when it comes to organ transplants and COVID-19.

A six-hour double lung transplant performed February in Chicago, is one of the first known cases using organs from a former Covid patient who later died.

The accidental death of a woman leading to the donation of her lungs to a critically-ill Covid patient. 

Dr. Ankit Bharat, the surgical director of Northwestern Medicine’s Lung Transplant Program, by all indication showing that it’s safe — under certain circumstances — to utilize organs from mildly-to-moderately infected former COVID-19 patients.  

“A number of these patients are organ donors, or they will become organ donors. So if we exclude all of these patients from organ donation, there will be a huge shortage of supply,” said Dr. Bharat.

Close to 30 million Americans have been infected by the coronavirus, including a huge pool of potential organ donors. So the benefits of utilizing those organs of tremendous value, given the shortage of donors. 

The key to success is for doctors to carefully vet available organs before the transplant surgery.

“Typically we use the nasal swab for assessment, but for these particular donors we believe we have to test the body fluids,” Dr. Bharat said.

The recipient, a 60-year-old Illinois man, has been on a ventilator since last spring with a grim prognosis for recovery. Doctors say he remains hospitalized, but believe he is well on his way to making a full recovery.

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