On June 11, 2020, a disturbing photograph purportedly showing a lung that had been removed from a COVID-19 patient started to circulate on social media:
This is a genuine photograph of a lung removed from such a patient.
The picture was shared in a news release from Chicago’s Northwestern Memorial Hospital after surgeons there performed a successful double-lung transplant on a COVID-19 coronavirus patient, an otherwise healthy woman in her 20s.
Northwestern Medical writes:
For the first time, surgeons at Northwestern Medicine performed a double-lung transplant on a patient whose lungs were damaged by COVID-19. The patient, a Hispanic woman in her 20s, spent six weeks in the COVID ICU on a ventilator and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), a life support machine that does the work of the heart and lungs. By early June, the patient’s lungs showed irreversible damage. The lung transplant team listed her for a double-lung transplant, and 48 hours later, performed the life-saving procedure at Northwestern Memorial Hospital.
“A lung transplant was her only chance for survival,” says Ankit Bharat, MD, chief of thoracic surgery and surgical director of the Northwestern Medicine Lung Transplant Program. “We are one of the first health systems to successfully perform a lung transplant on a patient recovering from COVID-19. We want other transplant centers to know that while the transplant procedure in these patients is quite technically challenging, it can be done safely, and it offers the terminally ill COVID-19 patients another option for survival.”
Northwestern Medicine reported that this woman, whose name is being withheld to protect her privacy, was healthy before she contracted the virus. The woman was sick for about two weeks before she was admitted to the hospital at the end of April. She was place on a ventilator, but her condition continued to worsen, and soon her lungs were damaged beyond repair.
Dr. Ankit Bharat, chief of thoracic surgery and surgical director of the Northwestern Medicine Lung Transplant Program, said in the same write-up that this COVID-19 patient’s only hope was a lung transplant. But doctors had to wait until she tested negative for the disease, and her organs were healthy enough, to proceed with the delicate procedure.
Bharat also spoke to The New York Times about the life-saving surgery. While Bharat said that he wanted people to know that this operation could save COVID-19 patients with severely damaged lungs, he added that this surgery wasn’t a viable option for every COVID-19 patient:
The 10-hour surgery was more difficult and took several hours longer than most lung transplants because inflammation from the disease had left the woman’s lungs “completely plastered to tissue around them, the heart, the chest wall and diaphragm,” said Dr. Ankit Bharat, the chief of thoracic surgery and surgical director of the lung transplant program at Northwestern Medicine, which includes Northwestern Memorial Hospital, in an interview.
Here’s a news report from Chicago’s WGN about the surgery: