COVID-19 is changing medicine in yet another way: A new study finds that patients with COVID-related lung damage now account for nearly one in 10 lung transplants in the United States.
The researchers analyzed data on more than 3,000 lung transplants nationwide between Aug. 1, 2020, and Sept. 30, 2021. They found that 7% of them were performed to treat severe, irreversible lung damage caused by COVID-19.
The average age of the 214 COVID lung transplant patients was 52, and the rate of three-month survival was nearly 96%.
The findings showed that 140 patients had COVID-19 acute respiratory distress syndrome, and 74 patients had COVID-19 pulmonary fibrosis.
"Acute respiratory distress syndrome involves an acute inflammation of the lungs, resulting in decreased ability for the lungs to oxygenate and ventilate," said study co-author Dr. Amy Roach. She's a general surgery resident and research fellow at Smidt Heart Institute of Cedars-Sinai Medical Center in Los Angeles.
"In some patients this progresses to COVID-19 pulmonary fibrosis, which causes scarring in the lung and is generally irreversible," Roach said in a medical center news release.
More than half of the 214 patients required ventilators or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) before their transplant, according to the study. The results were published Jan. 26 in the New England Journal of Medicine.
Study co-author Dr. Joanna Chikwe said, "Our experience treating COVID-19 has shown us that ECMO can be used in carefully selected patients, either as a bridge to lung transplantation, or to allow a patient's own lungs to heal." Chikwe is chair of the heart institute's department of cardiac surgery.
"Most of these COVID-19 patients would have been considered too ill to transplant a few years ago, and the surprising finding of our research was how well they did after lung transplantation," she added.
ECMO involves pumping a patient's blood from the body and through an artificial lung before being returned to the body.
Between July 2020 and June 30, 2021, Cedars-Sinai provided more than 30,000 hours of ECMO care to patients. Of those, 21,000 hours were for patients with severe lung disease due to COVID-19.
For more on how COVID-19 affects the lungs, visit the U.S. National Heart, Lung, and Blood Institute.
SOURCE: Cedars-Sinai Medical Center, news release, Jan. 26, 2022