Even some patients who were originally thought to be lung transplant candidates have been able to recover and go home without needing one, said Dr. Tiago Noguchi Machuca, a lung transplant surgeon at the University of Florida.
He had treated patients with ventilators and ECMO machines – devices that infuse oxygen into the bloodstream and remove carbon dioxide – that managed to free them of life support and to breathe on their own. His team keeps such patients on ECMO machines but tries to remove them from ventilators to restore their breathing capacity, he said.
A patient wanted to go home soon. “We brought him here because we really thought he would need a transplant,” said Dr. Machuca. “And he recovered.”
Doctors do not yet know how long it will take for patients to regain their pre-covidic strength and stamina. In the case of acute respiratory distress syndrome or ARDS caused by other viruses that are similar to Covid-19, full recovery may take over a year, but such statistics are not yet available for Covid.
However, the sooner patients begin their rehabilitation, the faster they will begin to recover. This could be another reason for doctors to take them off ventilators earlier, Ms. Al Chikhanie said. This may be possible, especially as scientists understand how to better manage the acute phase of infection.
Doctors on Mount Sinai found that Covid does not destroy the blood vessels in the lungs rather, it expands, making the blood flow too fast for the oxygen to be absorbed, resulting in hypoxemia, or low levels of oxygen in the blood, or hypoxemia. Dr. Hooman Poor, pulmonologist and co-author of the Mt. Sinai paper, said more research was needed to identify efficient ways to reduce Covid-induced hypoxemia in patients.
Some people who have spent a long time on life support can recover although they need a lot of help and perseverance. “Stay active, move around and go around the house, go up and down stairs,” said Ms. Al Chikhanie.