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First lung transplant in Benelux for critically ill COVID-19 patient
4 March 2021
A COVID-19 patient on the intensive care ward with irreparably damaged lungs was given new lungs on 1 Januari 2021 in the UZ Leuven transplant centre. It is the first time in the Benelux that someone on an intensive care COVID-19 ward gets a lung transplant.
Because of the shortage of available lungs and because transplants which are not planned in advance have less favourable end results, UZ Leuven can only very exceptionally perform this type of lung transplant. The team of transplant surgeons, pulmonologists and intensivists worked out a list with criteria: based on these strict criteria lung transplants for intensive care COVID-19 patients will be considered in future. Already during the first corona wave the UZ Leuven transplant physicians were regularly asked to consider a lung transplant for a COVID-19 patient in intensive care. It usually concerned patients in a coma that continued to be in a life-threatening condition after several weeks on intensive care and for whom recovery seemed impossible.
Valuable donor lungs
There are many objections against such transplants in acute situations. A transplant centre normally only accepts patients that have been carefully screened in advance to qualify for a transplant. Giving a patients new lungs without being involved in a screening programme, is less likely to succeed than a transplant that can be planned in advance. Ethically speaking it is also a difficult choice to give valuable donor lungs to critically ill patients for whom it is unclear how long they will still live while at the same time there are other patients in a screening programme that have already been waiting for months or even years.