Arizona man survives COVID-19 and double lung transplant

COVID Lung transplant patient

TUCSON, Ariz. (KOLD News 13) - A Phoenix man treated at Banner University Medicine was discharged Friday after a months long battle with COVID-19.

The patient, Darryl Williams, 58, has been hospitalized since July 5, 2020, when he presented to the hospital for a double lung transplant. Williams had been on the transplant list for approximately 2 weeks before being admitted to the hospital for the procedure.

Per Dr. Joshua Malo, a pulmonary and critical care specialist at Banner, Williams was tested for COVID-19 as part of the pre-operation screening and he tested positive. The transplant was cancelled and treatment for COVID-19 began. The hope was Williams would recover from COVID-19, be discharged and the transplant would be rescheduled at a later date, but Williams' symptoms worsened and he would need to be intubated and placed on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO.

“I would say this is completely remarkable for us that this happened and for him," said Malo.

ECMO is a life-saving therapy used to help patients with acute respiratory failure who have not responded to the usual lifesaving treatments like a breathing machine. An ECMO circuit is a machine that will perform the function of the failing organs during cardiogenic shock or acute respiratory failure.

“Every day that month, every day for that month we didn’t know which way it was going to go," said Jarrod Mosier, Medical Director for ECMO Program. "If you start off with bad lungs to the point where you need a transplant, and you have COVID to the point where you have ARDS and need a ventilator, the probable outcome is that you die. If you go on ECMO, the most probable outcome you die. And he had both of those things and he was able to recover enough to get a transplant.”

It’s a medical miracle thanks to the work of more than 100 staff members who gave round the clock care. Williams used the strength he had Friday to share his gratitude.

“I want to say thank you to my doctors and to my nurses. They did an excellent job taking care of me and getting me to this point and know what we have to do from here," said Williams.

With a few final hugs, Williams is now on his way to rehab.

He’ll continue to work on regaining his strength and walking on his own. A small feat compared to where he was 5 months ago.

“I feel so great for him, he’s so happy he’s ready to leave, a while ago," said Malo.

Thankful that this goodbye is really the start of a second chance.

“Gratitude,” said Williams. “Gratitude for my donor, for donating the lungs to me and being able to maintain them.”

Williams is one of the few people in the US who have gone through both COVID and a double lung transplant. According to doctors at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, the first patient was treated in June.

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