Northwestern develops unique lung transplant method for COVID, cancer patients

Chicago-based Northwestern Medicine successfully performed a double lung transplant using a new technique in a 56-year-old patient who had been diagnosed with lung cancer and had additional lung damage from a COVID-19 infection.

The patient was diagnosed with both conditions in March 2020, according to a May 13 news release. Other health systems did not know what path to take when his condition worsened,  making his heart begin to fail, but Northwestern's clinical program, the Double Lung Replacement and Multidisciplinary Care (DREAM) Program, took him in. 

Typically, the patient would not have been a candidate for a double lung transplant due to the severity of both the cancer and the damage that COVID-19 did to his lungs, but it became his only option for survival, according to the release. 

"While lung transplants for acute damage from COVID is quite rare these days, we’re now starting to see patients who may have had moderate to severe cases of COVID coming in with signs of lung fibrosis," Rade Tomic, MD, pulmonologist and medical director of the Lung Transplant Program said in the release. "The scarring of the lungs gets more heightened in patients who recovered from COVID but get another respiratory infection like COVID, RSV or influenza because it compounds the original damage that COVID caused." 

This prompted the surgeons at Northwestern Medicine's Canning Thoracic Institute to develop a lung transplantation method specifically for COVID-19 patients, and they have been using the framework from that method and applying it to select patients with advanced lung cancer in the DREAM program.

So far, the surgeons have successfully performed more than 45 lung transplants for COVID-19 patients, and upwards of 40 lung transplants for lung cancer patients. 

It is the only site in the nation to offer these specific procedures at this time, according to the release. 


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