The organ damage from COVID-19 has left many patients in need of transplants. Recent reports say that though doctors once hesitated to perform transplants to benefit COVID-19 patients, they’re now operating more and more. But, as April is Donate Life month, we wonder how COVID-19 has affected organ transplants. Here, Dr. Ramsey Hachem, the medical director for the lung transplant program at Washington University School of Medicine and Barnes-Jewish Hospital, addresses some of the raised questions.

COURTESY OF WASHINGTON UNIVERSITY SCHOOL OF MEDICINE
Dr. Ramsey Hachem

Can people still donate an organ if they’ve had COVID-19?

This depends on what organ is donated and when the COVID-19 infection occurred in relation to the timing of the

donation or transplant. Hachem says the majority of organ transplants are from deceased donors. Kidneys are the primary organ living people donate. Hachem recommends “a minimum of four weeks, but longer is probably prudent” before an organ transplant should happen. This ensures the donor has recovered completely from COVID-19 and is no longer infectious to the staff caring for them. Also, to minimize the risk of COVID-19 transmission to the recipient.

What happens if an organ donor died from COVID-19? Are their organs still used?

Maybe for tissue donations like ligaments or cornea. But, in general, not for solid organ transplants. “From the lung perspective, we wouldn’t take lungs from a donor who died of COVID because those lungs would have been severely damaged,” Hachem explains.

COVID-19 can affect people in many other ways, particularly those who have severe illnesses and ultimately die from COVID-19. There’s a significant risk of kidney failure and some heart toxicity that happens. So, in general, someone who dies from COVID is not a candidate for organ donation.

How does COVID-19 affect the lungs?

This varies. Some may experience little to no effect, while others may develop pneumonia which may become severe. Hachem continues, “In these severe cases, COVID-19 causes a lot of damage to the lungs. This may recover, but in some cases, there is permanent scarring and damage to the lungs.”

If someone had a lung transplant or is about to, what should these patients be aware of?

Hachem encourages patients to avoid exposure to COVID-19 because many people who have the infection are asymptomatic or have mild symptoms and may transmit it to others. Those who are lung transplant recipients are more likely to become seriously ill as a result of COVID-19.

“So, we really encourage patients to limit exposure to people who may be sick and even those who are not necessarily sick,” Hachem says. This involves minimizing exposure to other family members and following the general recommendations for exposure to COVID-19.

What should pre-transplant and post-transplant patients be aware of when it comes to COVID-19 and the vaccine?

Hachem recommends vaccinations for all transplant recipients and those waiting for transplants. He does want people to know that the vaccine is less effective for transplant recipients than those who’ve not had a transplant. “Mainly because of the effects of immunosuppression on how they respond to the vaccine. So that blunts the immune response to the vaccine,” Hachem describes. He stresses that they are still encouraging transplant recipients to get the vaccine because they still provide some level of protection.

Again, Hachem reinforces the need to limit exposure to COVID-19. The risk of infection is still possible even after people have been vaccinated, especially for transplant recipients.

Does age affect recommendations?

Age increases the risk of severe disease from COVID-19. Hachem says this is true among transplant recipients and those who have not had a transplant and otherwise healthy people.

Hachem encourages everyone to get vaccinated and become organ donors since April is Donate Life Month. “Organ donors are life saviors for the recipients,” Hachem says. “One organ donor can save up to eight lives. So, organ donors have an incredible impact on the lives of many people.”

Transplant News Sharing // “Lung Transplants” – Google News from Source www.stlmag.com

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