COVID lungs: Transplants are last resort for many California patients

Dr. Shura Alexis Moreno has always been one to count his blessings. Nowadays even more so: Every breath he takes with his new lungs feels like one.

His warm smile is back. He’s chatty and at first glance you wouldn’t imagine that just months ago he was on life support. But the flight of stairs in his home leaves him winded. He still doesn’t have the energy to play his drum set. He’s only recently started to gain some weight after losing 40 pounds while hospitalized.

Ten months after he was diagnosed with COVID-19, Moreno is finally getting some of his physical strength back. Yet mentally, it’s still tough.

“A lot of it is psychological,” he said. “I breathe the same, I feel like they’re my lungs. But every so often, I’ll cough and I get a little shaky. I think ‘wow, I have the lungs of someone else. It feels kind of weird.’”

Moreno is one of more than 200 COVID-19 survivors nationwide who have experienced some of the pandemic’s most devastating health effects — their only shot at survival was a new pair of lungs.

Through September, 26 people whose diagnosis was linked to COVID-19 have received new lungs at California transplant centers, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing. That accounts for 10% of all lung transplants performed in the state so far this year.

Surgeons at California transplant centers told CalMatters that they are increasingly evaluating patients whose lungs were destroyed by the virus, including queries from hospitals in other states. This could potentially mean a longer wait time for non-COVID patients on the lung transplant waitlist.

“We’ve done 40 lung transplants (through September this year) and six out of 40 have been on COVID patients, so that’s 15% of our transplants,” Dr. Pedro Catarino, director of aortic surgery at Cedars-Sinai Medical Center who performs lung and heart transplants. “It’s not that they (COVID patients) are depriving other patients, but there is definitely new pressure on the waitlist.”

Most severely sick COVID patients — hundreds of people — don’t make the cut for a transplant, surgeons said. Hospitals and doctors turn down patients who are too frail to endure the hours-long surgery or who have other serious underlying medical conditions.

California surgeons also now worry how the lungs of their surviving patients will fare in the long-term: Will those left with scarred lungs need transplants later in life? Only time will tell.

105-degree fever and extremely low oxygen

As a general practitioner who runs Gabriel Medical Center, a small clinic on the busy Olympic Blvd. corridor in East Los Angeles, Moreno — who’s Latino himself —  saw how the pandemic devastated many families he serves. Latinos account for 53% of infections and 46% of deaths in California while making up 39% of the population.

But he worried less about his own risk. He said he took all the recommended precautions for masks and physical distancing.

Once an avid cyclist, Moreno was still in good shape. He hit the gym a few times a week, and he …read more

Source:: The Mercury News – Entertainment


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