The transplant recipient is an Illinois man in his 60s. He received lungs from a donor who had mild symptoms. The donor died from an unrelated accidental death and no longer had COVID at the time.
WATCH: Doctors discuss groundbreaking procedure
The patient works in healthcare and was diagnosed with COVID-19 in May 2020 and suffered permanent lung damage.
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He was placed on a ventilator and life support for months. After spending one week on the transplant wait-list, the patient received the life-saving 10-hour procedure in February, becoming one of the first-known COVID-19 survivors in the United States to receive lungs from a donor who recovered from the virus.
"This is a milestone for lung transplantation," says Dr. Ankit Bharat, chief of thoracic surgery and surgical director of the Northwestern Medicine Lung Transplant Program, who performed the procedure. "To date, 30 million Americans have had COVID-19 and many of them are registered organ donors. If we say 'no' to them just because they had COVID-19 in the past, we will drastically reduce the donor pool and there's already a big supply and demand gap. We will have a massive problem on our hands if Americans can't donate their organs after having a mild to moderate case of COVID-19."
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A fluid test was performed in order to make sure that the virus was cleared from the lungs.
"Studies have shown that if your nasal swab is negative 8-10 days out of your COVID-19 symptoms you don't have any live virus in your airways, but that nasal swab doesn't confirm if you've cleared the virus from your lungs," said Dr. Bharat. "We can't rely on a nasal swab alone to see if the donor has cleared the virus - we have to check the lung fluid. If the swab and lung fluid both come back clear of the virus and the lung biopsy confirms there's no permanent damage to the lungs, we can feel confident in the quality of the donor lungs. Our first 'COVID to COVID' patient received beautiful, healthy lungs and continues to recover at optimal pace."
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Since the start of the pandemic, Northwestern Medicine surgeons have completed 14 double-lung transplants on COVID-19 survivors, the most performed at any hospital in the world.
Doctors at Northwestern believe many COVID-19 survivors still suffer long-term effects, and the need for organ donation and possible transplants will continue to grow.