Michigan Woman Underwent Double-Lung Transplant, Was Given Lungs Infected with COVID in 1st Case of Its Kind

A Michigan woman was on a ventilator for 61 days after undergoing lung surgery after doctors learned the donor was positive for coronavirus.
Photo by Christopher Furlong/Getty Images

A Michigan woman desperately needed a double-lung transplant last year, and when she finally found a donor in the fall, doctors assumed a successful recovery.

But just three days after her surgery, the woman, who suffered from chronic obstructive lung disease, developed a fever and low blood pressure. Her lungs were also showing signs of infection, according to a medical study published in the American Journal of Transplantation.

Doctors were perplexed when her symptoms continued to worsen. She developed septic shock which led doctors to test her for COVID-19.

Her results for the virus came back positive, even though she tested negative for the virus twelve hours before her surgery. Doctors then took tests from the donor, which also came back positive.

This is reportedly the first case of its kind out of the 40,000 transplants that took place in 2020, according to NBC. 

There are at least eight other cases in the U.S. of suspected donor-derived infections, according to a study from the Center for Disease Control and Prevention. The study concluded that the transmission in these cases was likely from the community or environment, not the donor.

However, in this case, Michigan doctors are suggesting this is the first proven case in the U.S. in which the virus was transmitted through an organ transplant, NBC News reported.

The recipient was placed on a ventilator for 61 days after suffering multi-system, organ failure.

She was tested for COVID-19, again, a day before she died. She was still positive.

It was later discovered that the thoracic surgeon who performed the surgery had also tested positive for COVID-19, just four days after the transplant. Ten additional health care workers who also worked on her case tested negative.

The organ donor was a woman who died after suffering severe brain injuries following a car accident, NBC reported.

Patients seeking out donors should not be fearful of receiving transplants as "the risks of turning down transplants are catastrophic," Dr. David Klassen, chief medical officer with the United Network for Organ Sharing told NBC.

"I don't think patients should be afraid of the transplant process," Dr. Klassen urged.

Experts caution that the risks of transmission of this nature remain significantly low. But authors of the study are now alerting transplant centers and organ procurement organizations to conduct COVID-19 testing on all lung donors.

They are also urging all workers involved in lung transplant surgeries to be extra cautious and wear N95 masks and eye protection.

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