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Houston man receives double lung transplant after nearly dying from coronavirus

“To think that I was only a few days away from dying and now I have a second chance at life is truly a miracle,” Francisco Medellin said.

HOUSTON — A week after 70-year-old Francisco Medellin learned he had COVID-19, he turned blue. His family rushed him to Memorial Hermann The Woodlands Medical Center where he was diagnosed with COVID-19-induced pneumonia and acute respiratory distress syndrome.

“Mr. Medellin’s blood oxygen level was in the 60s, sometimes dipping into the 50s,” said Dr. Soma Jyothula with the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston. “A healthy patient’s oxygen level is around 95. He was extremely ill and, at that point, very lucky to be alive.”

For the next six weeks, doctors treated the retired construction worker with steroids, Remdesivir and convalescent plasma. Nothing worked.

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“After all of these treatments, he still needed 80 to 100 percent oxygen at rest,” said Jyothula, who is also medical director of the lung transplant program at Memorial Hermann. “At that point, we determined that the only way he would survive was if he underwent a double lung transplant.”

UTHealth transplant surgeons at Memorial Hermann were the first in Texas to perform a double lung transplant on a patient whose lungs were severely damaged by COVID-19.

“The most common reason why patients are dying from COVID-19 is lung damage. I believe we are going to see even more patients needing lung transplants in the future because of this virus,” said Dr. Manish Patel, surgical director of the lung transplant program at Memorial Hermann and the surgeon who performed Medellin’s transplant.

Medellin was up and walking days after his surgery on August 26 and has already been moved to a rehab facility to regain his strength.

“To think that I was only a few days away from dying and now I have a second chance at life is truly a miracle,” Medellin said. “I’m extremely grateful to the team who saved me and gave me the chance to get back to my family.”

Before his transplant, Medellin was the primary caregiver for his wife. He has nine children and 32 grandchildren, and he said he cannot wait to be with them again.