US woman died after receiving coronavirus-infected lungs during organ transplant, study reveals

A Michigan woman died of Covid-19 last year after getting a double-lung transplant from a donor who turned out to be infected with the virus, according to a medical study describing the first such case in the US.

The unnamed organ recipient had chronic obstructive lung disease, while her donor was another woman, who succumbed to a severe brain injury after a car crash, a report in the American Journal of Transplantation said.

The surgery took place at the University Hospital in Ann Arbor, Michigan in mid-2020. It went well, but three days later the recipient of the lungs suddenly developed high fever, low blood pressure and heavy breathing.

The patient then went into septic shock, prompting medics to test her for Covid-19. The results returned positive, and fluid samples taken from the woman’s lungs revealed the presence of the virus too.

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A surgeon who performed the transplant and was in contact with the donated organ also showed symptoms of coronavirus and tested positive. But while the medic managed to recover, his patient wasn’t so lucky.

The woman fought the disease for 61 days, but her condition kept deteriorating. She died in autumn, the paper said.

“We would absolutely not have used the lungs if we’d had a positive Covid test,” Dr. Daniel Kaul, head of the Transplant Infectious Disease Service at the University of Michigan Medical School and one of the co-authors of the study, told Kaiser Health News.

According to the procedure, nose and throat samples were taken from both the donor and the recipient ahead of the surgery, but all came back negative for Covid-19. The donor’s family insisted that she didn’t travel or show any symptoms of the virus like fever, cough, headache or diarrhea prior to the accident. The researchers also couldn’t find any evidence of contact with those known to be infected with Covid-19.

The death of the lung recipient in Michigan was a “tragic” but isolated event, which further emphasizes the need for more thorough testing of transplant donors and organs, Kaul said. Thousands of transplants were carried out in the US last year, but this became the only proven case of coronavirus being passed on through a donated organ.

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