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Father-of-two 52, who survived coronavirus, undergoes life-saving double lung transplant

A New Mexico father-of-two has undergone a life-saving double lung transplant after a four-month-long battle with the novel coronavirus.

Arthur Sanchez, 52, an employee of El Paso Electric, began feeling ill in early April and, soon after, tested positive for COVID-19.

His health quickly deteriorated and he was admitted to the hospital, where he spent 116 days in the intensive care unit (ICU) on a ventilator. 

Doctors determined that the virus caused irreversible damage to his lungs and he was in dire need of a transplant.  

In early August, Sanchez finally received a new set of lungs and, after 147 days in the hospital, he was finally released and reunited with his wife and daughters.

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Father-of-two Arthur Sanchez, 52, from Las Cruces, New Mexico, has undergone a life-saving double lung transplant after a four-month-long battle with coronavirus. Pictured: Sanchez with his wife Michaela

On April 12, Easter Sunday, the employee of El Paso Electric, tested positive for coronavirus. Pictured: Sanchez at a follow-up appointment at St Joseph's, right

Father-of-two Arthur Sanchez, 52, from Las Cruces, New Mexico, has undergone a life-saving double lung transplant after a four-month-long battle with coronavirus. On April 12, Easter Sunday, the employee of El Paso Electric, tested positive for coronavirus. Pictured: Sanchez with his wife Michaela, left, and at a follow-up appointment at St Joseph’s, right

Sanchez was initially sent home but, after still feeling feverish and short of breath, he went back to the hospital and was admitted to the ICU. Pictured: Sanchez, (left) during a follow up appointment at St Joseph's

Sanchez was initially sent home but, after still feeling feverish and short of breath, he went back to the hospital and was admitted to the ICU. Pictured: Sanchez, (left) during a follow up appointment at St Joseph’s 

During a press conference on Thursday, Sanchez, who lives in Las Cruces, said that when the pandemic first struck the US, he dismissed it.  

‘Before my family started to get sick, I thought this was just another flu-like virus that was being sensationalized,’ he said.

‘Lo and behold, it hit us in a bad way.’  

Early on, his sister and his brother-in-law both contracted the virus and were hospitalized at MountainView Regional Medical Center in Las Cruces.

Because his sister was the primary caregiver of his mother, he began watching over her. A few days later, his mother tested positive but only developed mild symptoms.

His brother-in-law, Tony Morgan, unfortunately did not survive.

On April 12, Easter Sunday, Sanchez woke up in the middle of the night with a fever and shortness of breath.

At 3am, he drove himself to MountainView, where he tested positive for COVID-19.

However, he was discharged and told to stay away from his wife, Michaela, so he didn’t infect her.

Sanchez still didn’t feel well and, while staying at his sister’s house, a nurse from MountainView called to check up on him.

When he stated that he didn’t feel better, she went by to visit him.

‘When she saw the state I was in, she said: “We need to go back to the hospital,'” Sanchez said.

‘They took me straight into the ICU.’

On April 20, he was placed on a ventilator with a breathing tube down his throat.  

Sanchez was placed on a ventilator at MountainView Regional Medical Center, but doctors decided he needed more support. Pictured: Sanchez, in the hospital, with his wife, Michaela

He was airlifted to the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque and placed on a lung bypass machine called an ECMO machine. Pictured: Sanchez grilling

Sanchez was placed on a ventilator at MountainView Regional Medical Center, but doctors decided he needed more support. He was airlifted to the University of New Mexico Hospital in Albuquerque and placed on a lung bypass machine called an ECMO machine. Pictured: Sanchez, with his wife, Michaela left; and grilling, right

After being weaned off of the ECMO machine, doctors determined his lungs were so scarred and damaged that he needed a double lung transplant. Pictured: Sanchez's lungs after the transplant

After being weaned off of the ECMO machine, doctors determined his lungs were so scarred and damaged that he needed a double lung transplant. Pictured: Sanchez’s lungs after the transplant

Four days later, he was airlifted to the University of New Mexico (UNM) Hospital in Albuquerque and, three days after that, he was placed on an Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) machine.

The machine pumps and oxygenates a patient’s blood outside the body, which allows the heart and lungs to rest. 

‘No one could have known for the next four months he would not take another breath on his own,’ said Dr Jon Marinaro, co-chief of the UNM Center for Adult Critical Care and director of the hospital’s ECMO program, during the press conference.

‘Arthur persevered through multiple near-death experiences, including infections, bleeding complications and many other setbacks.’  

During his more than three-month stay at UNM Hospital, Sanchez spent 93 days on the lung bypass machine.

While the team as able to wean him off ECMO support, his lungs were so severely scarred and damaged  that he still required a ventilator. 

Doctors said his only chance of survival was a double lung transplant.

Sanchez was transferred to St Joseph’s Norton Thoracic Institute in Phoenix, Arizona, and, within three weeks, the lung transplant team found a donor match. 

‘I want to emphasize that lung transplant is a last resort treatment,’ said Dr Rajat Walia, a pulmonologist and medical director of the lung transplant program at St Joseph’s Norton Thoracic Institute, at the press conference.

‘We need six to eight weeks to say lung recovery not possible before we decide on a lung transplant.’  

Within three weeks of being transferred to St Joseph's Norton Thoracic Institute in Phoenix, a donor match was found for him. Pictured: Doctors perform a double lung transplant on Sanchez, August 16

Within three weeks of being transferred to St Joseph’s Norton Thoracic Institute in Phoenix, a donor match was found for him. Pictured: Doctors perform a double lung transplant on Sanchez, August 16

Sanchez was finally able to reunite with his wife and two daughters after a total of 147 days between three hospitals. Pictured: Sanchez (right) during a follow-up visit at St Joseph's

Sanchez was finally able to reunite with his wife and two daughters after a total of 147 days between three hospitals. Pictured: Sanchez (right) during a follow-up visit at St Joseph’s

On August 16, Sanchez underwent surgery to receive a new set of lungs. 

‘Arthur’s surgery was incredibly complex,’ said Dr Samad Hashimi, one of Sanchez’s lung transplant surgeons at St Joseph’s Norton Thoracic Institute and director of the ECMO program.

‘Patients who have had COVID-19 are unlike our other lung transplant patients in that they’ve experienced longer hospitalizations pre-transplant, many more medical interventions, and very severe lung damage.’

After 44 days, Sanchez was finally released home to his wife, with whom he just spent his 30th wedding anniversary, and his two grown daughters.

He will need to be on anti-rejection medication for the rest of his life, but he says he doesn’t take a single day for granted any more and has a new lease on life.  

‘Without many of the medical professionals that took care of me, I wouldn’t be here today,’ Sanchez said.

‘I’m a fighter and a strong believer in faith. I believe I am a walking miracle.’

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