Double-lung transplant gives COVID-19 survivor a second chance at life

Doctors at UC San Diego Health perform surgery
Posted at 5:59 AM, Sep 02, 2021
and last updated 2021-09-02 11:43:11-04

SAN DIEGO (KGTV) - A San Diego man has a second chance at life, thanks to a double-lung transplant from UC San Diego Health doctors.

Federico Gomez Gil contracted COVID-19 in February before he was eligible to receive the vaccine. The disease led to pneumonia, which devastated his lungs.

Gomez Gil, who had no other previous health problems, went to the hospital and was placed on a ventilator. Doctors began using extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) when his body still could not get enough oxygen. The ECMO machine supplies the blood with oxygen directly while filtering out carbon dioxide.

"All of the patient's blood circulates through that system continuously," explains Dr. Eugene Golts, one of Gomez Gil's doctors. "It allows us to completely substitute the patient's lungs for the use of the system."

That allows the lungs to heal enough to operate on their own. Gomez Gil spent nearly 50 days on the ECMO system. He also spent weeks doing physical therapy to get his body healthy enough to be a transplant candidate.

"When we came to visit, and he was awake and doing the physical therapy, that was amazing," says his daughter Guadalupe. "I was able to give him a hug. Having not seen him in a while, that was beyond words."

On June 14, Gomez Gil received his new lungs in a surgery that lasted more than 6 hours. It's a surgery that only happens a few thousand times per year in the US.

"Lung transplant is a major surgery," says Dr. Golts. "It's a life-changing event, certainly. But it allows people to recover and lead quite complete lives, and enjoy the things that we would normally consider enjoyable."

After the surgery, Gomez Gil said he was grateful and blessed to get this second chance.

"He's thankful for the staff and the doctors," his interpreter said in an interview with the hospital.

"It's surreal," his daughter added. "One day he has all these lines, IVs, tubes, and then the next day it's like a little bit less, a little bit less, until now he has nothing on him... he's a success story."

Gomez Gil still has a long way to go with monitoring, medicine, and more physical therapy. Doctors say his case is remarkable because he was a completely healthy person before contracting COVID.

Even though Gomez Gil had a successful outcome, thousands of other people lose their fight against COVID. Doctors say that serves as a lesson to everyone to take the Pandemic seriously, use whatever preventative measures are available, and get the vaccine.

"COVID is a terrible disease," says Dr. Golts. "I encourage everyone to do whatever they can to combat that."

"It is real, it's very real," Gomez Gil added through an interpreter. "Do not be fooled. Just make sure you wear your mask, and please get vaccinated."