Even some patients originally deemed as candidates for a lung transplant managed to recuperate and go home without needing one, said Dr. Tiago Noguchi Machuca, a lung transplant surgeon at the University of Florida.
He had treated patients on ventilators and ECMO machines — devices that infuse oxygen into the blood stream and remove carbon dioxide — who managed to get them off life support and breathing on their own. His team keeps such patients on ECMO machines, but tries to take them off ventilators to restore their breathing capacities, he said.
One patient was about to go home soon. “We had brought him here really thinking he was going to need a transplant,” Dr. Machuca said. “And he recovered.”
Doctors don’t yet know how long it will take patients to regain their pre-Covid strength and endurance. In the case of acute respiratory distress syndrome or ARDS, which has been caused by other viruses and has similarities to Covid-19, full recovery can take over a year, but there are no such statistics for Covid yet.
However, the earlier patients start their rehabilitation, the faster they begin to bounce back, which may be another reason for doctors to take them off ventilators sooner, Ms. Al Chikhanie said. That may be possible, especially as scientists understand how to manage the acute infection phase better.
Doctors at Mount Sinai found that Covid doesn’t break down the lung’s blood vessels but rather dilates them, which makes the blood flow too fast for the oxygen to be absorbed, causing hypoxemia or low levels of oxygen in the blood or hypoxemia. Dr. Hooman Poor, a pulmonologist and co-author of the Mt. Sinai paper, said that more research was needed to identify efficient ways to reduce Covid-induced hypoxemia in patients.
Some people who spent a long time on life support can recover, though they will need a great deal of help and perseverance. “Stay active, move and walk around the house, go up and down stairs,” Ms. Al Chikhanie said.