The coronavirus patient was so sick, so deeply sedated that she could not speak, could not squeeze a hand or even flutter her eyelids — let alone give permission for the 10-hour surgery she endured last week.
So doctors at Northwestern Memorial Hospital took the unusual step of asking the young woman’s family if she would — were she conscious — agree to a last-ditch double lung transplant to save her life.
This week, as the 20-something woman is slowly emerging from the fog of sedation, she let doctors know they’d done the right thing.
“Doctor, thank you for not giving up on me,” the woman told one of her surgeons, Dr. Ankit Bharat, on Wednesday. The woman’s name has not been released,
On Thursday, Bharat and others who cared for the woman spoke to reporters about their joy at witnessing her remarkable recovery.
“Many days, she was the sickest patient in our COVID-19 ICU, and possibly the entire hospital,” said Dr. Beth Malsin, a pulmonary and critical care specialist.
The woman, who recently moved to Chicago from North Carolina to join her boyfriend, had been on a ventilator and heart-lung machine for nearly two months before the operation June 5.
The severe damage to her lungs made the procedure especially challenging, Bharat said, comparing her lungs to “Swiss cheese.”
But her chances for a normal life are good, according to Dr. Rade Tomic, medical director of the hospital’s lung transplant program. “We are anticipating that she will have a full recovery,” Tomic said.
The woman is being kept on the ventilator while her body heals.
The doctors said she had an underlying health issue, a “chronic medical condition” for which she was taking medicine, which suppressed her immune system.
The woman was in bad shape, Bharat said, with signs that her heart, kidneys and liver were beginning to fail, so she quickly moved up the transplant list.
“If she did not get the transplant, she would not be alive,” Bharat said.
When her family were asked if she would have wanted the surgery, “They were pretty firm in talking with [doctors] that she’d absolutely want every single chance that she could get,” Malsin said.
If all goes well, the woman will be able to leave Northwestern in about a month, doctors said.