UF Health one of few hospitals to complete COVID-19 related double lung transplants

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Published: Feb. 16, 2021 at 5:14 AM EST
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GAINESVILLE, Fla. (WCJB) - University of Florida Health is one of only a few hospitals in the country to perform double-lung transplants on patients suffering from COVID-19 related lung failure. The hospital is experiencing an increase in referrals and patients are traveling to Gainesville from across the country.

Chief of Division of Thoracic Surgery, Dr. Tiago Machuca, said there are several boxes that need to be checked in order for a patient to become a potential candidate.

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“Transplantation is not going to working for patients who are rapidly deteriorating, transplantation is going to be for patients who are fully supported by machines and are fully supported on the machines and they are stable because those machines are there.”

Dr. Tiago Machuca
Dr. Tiago Machuca(UF Health)

Around 93 lung transplants are completed each year, according to Machuca. Since May, 12 of those lung transplants have been related to COVID. Each double-lung transplant can take anywhere between 8-10 hours.

“Everyone in health care who has been touched by these patients, I think we’re learning how resilient they can be, how much they can stand and overcome,” said Machuca. “This is very striking because you don’t see that very often in medicine when these people essentially had a normal life and suddenly they’re hit by something that is going to kill them.”

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Machuca said the hospital has been completing similar complex surgeries for years, which led to the creation of a dedicated lung unit. With increased expertise, this put UF Health in the perfect position to take on more high-risk surgeries once COVID hit.

“Seeing these patients coming in here with very little hope, knowing they are going to die and then in a matter of two months seeing them walk out of the hospital and going back to their lives and seeing pictures of them with their families, it doesn’t get stronger than this,” said Machuca.

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Machuca said everyone who has received the surgery is recovering well. He adds that there are a handful of patients in the hospital waiting for a transplant and five other patients waiting to be transferred to Gainesville from other hospitals.

“I think even those these are successful stories, it can show how serious this can get,” said Machuca. “A patient can get their lungs destroyed or they can die so I think this really needs to be taken seriously. It’s unclear how many patients are going to be left with chronic disabilities.”

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