Lung transplants on corona patients at Leuven Hospital

Surgeons at Leuven University Hospital have carried out the first lung transplant operations on Covid patients in the Benelux. Both transplants were a success, but the operation will remain an exception. “Patients on the regular waiting list will still get priority” said the hospital.

The first op happened on 1 January involving a patient in critical care.  The patients two lungs that had been irreparably damaged were replaced.  The operation is set to be an exception.  The hospital’s transplant unit usually only operates on patients who have been carefully screened beforehand to ensure they can benefit from the op. Moreover, lungs for transplant are scarce.

Ethically, it’s a difficult issue to release donor lungs to patients in critical care with unclear survival chances, especially when corona patients are in a coma and can’t themselves give permission for the op.

Younger corona patients as well as patients who were fit before they caught corona, preferably non-smokers and people who are not obese stand a greater chance of being helped in this way.  “Patients may no longer be contagious either” says lung expert Geert Verleden “to ensure they don’t infect the doctors carrying out the transplant.”

Urgent transplants on corona patients are only expected to represent 5% of lung transplants.  The hospital wants to give priority to patients already on the waiting list, while rescuing the lives of people who will otherwise be at death’s door. The transplant team expect greater demand from patients who have had serious corona infections in coming years, but they will have to follow the regular procedure.

Before
Four weeks after

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