COVID-19Medical Articles

Can COVID-19 Cause Irreversible Lung Damage?

In severe cases, COVID-19 can cause lung failure, and when this occurs, those patients may be considered for a lung transplant evaluation. We spoke with Dr. Gabriel Loor, Surgical Director of the Lung Transplant Program at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center, and Dr. Puneet Garcha, Medical Director of Lung Transplantation at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center, for insight on the need for lung transplants in COVID-19 patients.

When Are COVID-19 Patients Evaluated for Lung Transplants?

Lungs are the organ system that is most affected by COVID-19, but the majority of infected patients are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms, allowing them to recover at home. However, a very small percentage of COVID-19 patients experience severe symptoms and require hospitalization in intensive care units. If these patients do not respond positively to advanced medical care and experience lung failure, they may be evaluated for a lung transplantation.

What Is the Lung Transplant Program at Baylor St. Luke’s Like?

Designated as part of Optum’s Centers of Excellence networks, which is affiliated with United Healthcare plans, our lung transplant program is one of the busiest in the country. We’ve performed over 50 lung transplants in the last 12 months, and we leverage several state-of-the-art procedures and technologies that set us apart from other transplant centers. Additionally, Baylor St. Luke’s is consistently recognized as high-performing in pulmonology and lung surgery by U.S. News & World Report.

Although COVID-19 created new challenges for the healthcare industry, we’ve continued to perform lung transplants during the crisis at about the usual pre-pandemic rate. By implementing a rigorous screening protocol that has resulted in no transmission of the COVID-19 virus and a 100% patient survival rate, we’re able to safely and compassionately continue conducting transplants through this unprecedented crisis.

As the national leaders in breathing lung technology, and the first to utilize the portable organ care system in Texas, we can transport lungs from anywhere in the country using a device that keeps the lungs “breathing” with blood pumping through the vessels during transport. This ensures a greater supply of donor lungs for our patients.

Our staff has conducted over 1,000 lung transplants, and we have some of the most experienced surgeons and pulmonologists in the country. Furthermore, we’re constantly looking at ways to make our transplants even safer, and several members of our staff are national and international leaders in a variety of clinical trials considering ways to improve outcomes with lung transplantation.

What Should Someone Do If They’re Diagnosed With COVID-19?

If you’re diagnosed with COVID-19, self-isolate to prevent spreading the virus. If you experience trouble breathing or develop worsening symptoms, call 911 and seek emergency care immediately. In the event of lung failure, your doctors can guide you toward a referral and transfer to Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center for a transplant workup. Most patients will recover from the virus, but after recovering, they’ll need to pay close attention to their bodies during physical activities. If you experience more shortness of breath than usual after being physically active, follow up with a pulmonologist to check for evidence of irreversible lung damage from COVID-19.

If there are signs of irreparable damage, consider requesting a consultation with Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center’s lung transplant program. You can contact our program via email at LungTeam@sleh.com or by calling 832-355-9494, option 4.

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