Mr. Franklin is one of a growing number of patients who need transplants after having their lungs ravaged by the coronavirus. UPMC has so far performed six lung transplants on COVID-19 patients, including Mr. Franklin, and is evaluating several more patients. Most of them need double-lung transplants because both lungs get infected and suffer profound damage.
Nationally, about 10% of lung transplants now go to COVID-19 patients, according to data provided to the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette from the United Network for Organ Sharing, or UNOS. Last year, 268 out of 2,524 total lung transplants performed in the United States were due to COVID-19. In all, around 400 people across the country have received lung transplants because of the virus since the pandemic began.
A transplant is a last-resort option for patients whose lungs are irreversibly damaged. The procedure is risky and involves a lifetime of taking anti-rejection drugs that suppress the immune system. But without it, these patients would die from COVID-19 complications.
With more patients in need of lungs than there are organs available, such transplants also raise questions about how donor organs should be allocated, especially since some people who need them were unvaccinated by choice. Mr. Franklin didn’t get the COVID-19 vaccine because he had questions about its safety and effectiveness.
“It might be one of the biggest mistakes I’ve ever made,” he said.