Covid-19-related transplants are surging as hospitals grapple with a growing group of patients whose organs — most often hearts and lungs — are “basically destroyed by the virus”
The man, Mark Buchanan of Roopville, received a double-lung transplant in October, nearly three months after Covid-19 left him hospitalized and sedated, first on a ventilator and then on the last-resort treatment known as ECMO.
"They said that it had ruined my lungs," said Buchanan, 53, who was a burly power company lineman when he fell ill. "The vent and the Covid ruined em completely."
At the time, only a handful of U.S. hospitals were willing to take a chance on organ transplants to treat the sickest Covid-19 patients. Too little was known about the risks of the virus and the lasting damage it might cause, let alone whether such patients could survive the surgery. Buchanan was turned down at Emory University Hospital in Atlanta, said his wife, Melissa, who said doctors advised her to withdraw treatment and allow him to die peacefully.
"They were telling me to end his life. I told them absolutely not," recalled Melissa Buchanan, 49. "We all started Googling any place that would take someone who needed a lung transplant."
It took calls to several hospitals, plus a favor from a hometown physician, before Buchanan was accepted at the University of Florida Health Shands Hospital, 350 miles away in Gainesville, Florida. He received his new lungs Oct. 28.
Nearly six months later, the transplant landscape has radically changed. Covid-19-related transplants are surging as hospitals grapple with a growing subset of patients whose organs — most often hearts and lungs — are "basically destroyed by the virus," said Dr. Jonathan Orens, a lung transplant expert at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore.