Lung Transplant Recipient Recovers From COVID for Second Time

Ralph Ellis

January 24, 2022

Editor's note: Find the latest COVID-19 news and guidance in Medscape's Coronavirus Resource Center.

In July 2020, COVID-19 patient Brian Kuhns underwent a double lung transplant — then a little-used procedure to battle the lung-damaging virus.

Today Kuhns is even more of a medical success story: He recently survived COVID for a second time.

"They said if I got COVID again, I'd probably die. So I was scared. I didn't go anywhere, you know what I mean?" Kuhns told WLS-TV.

The resident of Lake Zurich, outside Chicago, only spent two days in the hospital this time for COVID before going home. He then had to return to Northwest Memorial Hospital in Chicago recently because of an infection related to the transplant. Still, he told WLS that he's making the best of it.

"I'm working a little bit, just answering the phones, you know, because I'm pretty weak still," Kuhns said. "I can't do what I used to do…so I do that for a couple hours, and then I go, you know, just hanging at home, man, 'cause you know I'm still worried. I actually got the COVID again."

What is believed to be the first double lung transplant for a COVID patient occurred June 5, 2020, at Northwest Memorial. The patient was Mayra Ramirez of Chicago.

Only one month later, on July 5, 2020, Kuhns went through the 10-hour procedure at the same hospital. The auto repair shop owner first got sick with COVID that March, Northwest Memorial said in a news release after the operations.

"Everything happened so quickly. One minute I'm running my business, and the next minute I'm spending 100 days on a life support machine," Kuhns said in the release.

His wife said Kuhns used to think COVID was a hoax.

"Before COVID-19, Brian was a pretty healthy guy who loved music, cars and making people laugh," Nancy Kuhns said in the release. "But he also thought COVID-19 was a hoax. I assure you; Brian's tune has now changed. COVID-19 is not a hoax. It almost killed my husband."

NPR reported in late November 2021, citing data from the United Network for Organ Sharing, that one in 10 lung transplants in the United States go to COVID patients.

"If there were more lungs available for transplants, I believe the numbers would be greater than they are," said David Klassen, chief medical officer for UNOS.

In that report, NPR said 238 COVID patients had received lung transplants since these operations were first tracked in August 2020.

During 2021, a total of 2,524 lung transplants were performed in the United States for people with a variety of lung conditions, compared to 2,539 in 2020, according to the United Network for Organ Sharing.

Sources:

WLS. "Suburban man who got double lung transplant at Northwestern Memorial survives COVID for 2nd time"

Northwest Medical. "Meet the Two COVID-19 Patients Who Received Double-Lung Transplants at Northwestern Medicine"

NPR. "Once rare, lung transplants for COVID-19 patients are rising quickly"

United Network for Organ Sharing. "Transplant Trends"

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