New Mexico coronavirus patient undergoes life-saving double lung transplant

A New Mexico man who spent more than 100 days in the hospital and on a ventilator after contracting the novel coronavirus has undergone a life-saving double lung transplant, according to the hospital where he was treated. 

Arthur Sanchez, a father of two, underwent the transplant at Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix, Ariz., in August, becoming only the third coronavirus patient to undergo the procedure, which is considered as a “last resort for patients who have developed irreversible lung damage from COVID-19,” according to a news release from the hospital. 

Arthur and Michaela Sanchez.
(Dignity Health AZ)

Although it’s unclear where and exactly when Sanchez, of Las Cruces, first contracted the virus, he was admitted to the hospital on April 12 after experiencing fever, chills and shortness of breath. The 52-year-old had no underlying conditions other than sleep apnea and elevated blood pressure, per the news release. 

“I was doing pretty well at first, and I actually got to go home after just a few days of treatment,” Sanchez said in a statement. “I was prepared to quarantine from my wife, but the first day home my nurse sent me back to the hospital and I was put on a ventilator.”

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“At one point, my sister was also being treated for COVID-19 in the hospital room next to mine,” he added, noting that in addition to his sister, his mother, wife, sister and brother-in-law also contracted the virus. His brother-in-law passed away as a result, per the news release. 

Sanchez’s condition did not improve even after he was ventilated. Eventually, he was airlifted to The University of New Mexico (UNM) Hospital in Albuquerque for treatment on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (EMO) machine, a “last resort therapy for some COVID-19 patients. It is a machine that essentially takes over for failing lungs.”

Sanchez stayed at UNM Hospital for more than three months, and required the EMO machine for 93 days, officials said.

Sanchez's scarred lungs.

Sanchez’s scarred lungs.
(Dignity Health AZ)

Sanchez was eventually taken off of the EMO machine but still required a ventilator. At that point, however, the man’s lungs were so severely scarred from the infection that his “only chance of survival was a double lung transplant.”

The 52-year-old was then transferred to St. Joseph’s Norton Thoracic Institute to undergo the transplant; the lung transplant team there was able to find a donor match for Sanchez roughly two weeks after his arrival. 

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

The surgery was a success and after a 44-day stay at St. Joseph’s, Sanchez was reunited with his family, including his wife of 30 years. In total, Sanchez was hospitalized for 147 days, according to the news release. 

Doctors performing Sanchez's double lung transplant. (Dignity Health AZ)

Doctors performing Sanchez’s double lung transplant. (Dignity Health AZ)

“In the last several months, I could have lost my husband three times,” said Michaela Sanchez, the man’s wife. “He’s the love of my life, my high school sweetheart. We spent our 30th wedding anniversary in the hospital at UNM. It has been an absolute rollercoaster, and I’m so elated now that we can be together again.”

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“Arthur persevered through multiple near-death experiences, including infections, bleeding complications and many other setbacks,” Dr. Jon Marinaro, co-chief of the UNM Center for Adult Critical Care and director of the hospital’s ECMO program, said in a statement. “His survival is a testament to his inner strength, his family support system and the outstanding teams at Mountain View Hospital in Las Cruces, UNM Hospital in Albuquerque, the Lifeguard transport team and St. Joseph’s in Arizona.”

“Before my family started to get sick, I thought this was just another flu-like virus that was being sensationalized. Lo and behold, it hit us in a bad way,” Sanchez said when urging others to take COVID-19 seriously. 

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