CHARLESTON, S.C. (WCSC) - It was a milestone moment for doctors and nurses at MUSC as the hospital system’s first COVID-19 lung transplant patient rang a ceremonial bell to mark the end of his monumental recovery last week.
Ryan Nacovitch was diagnosed with COVID-19 in December and found his way into MUSC’s care as his illness worsened. The coronavirus ultimately ravaged Ryan’s lungs to the point that he required a double lung transplant.
“They said I was high on the transplant list to get one, but it was just a waiting game to get one at that point,” Ryan Nacovitch said. “It was a huge relief to be able to get that gift and continue living.”
While MUSC officials say they don’t know how many COVID patients have needed transplants so far, they do believe Ryan is the first patient to undergo the procedure in the Carolinas.
“The surgery is especially difficult with a lot of bleeding and other complications due to the type of lung damage they get from COVID and the severity of their illness,” MUSC Health CEO Dr. David Zaas said.
Nacovitch turned 36 years old during the 116 days he spent in the hospital, and doctors say it’s not clear why some patients are impacted by the coronavirus in more devastating ways than others.
“It also impacts individuals who are young and healthy, and while it’s less common to lead to really severe infection in people who are young and healthy, it does happen, and it’s happened around the country,” Zaas said. " It’s important we realize that we are all at risk.”
Researchers at MUSC are now trying to learn more about the long-term effects of COVID-19 on the lungs and how lung transplants may help.
“There may be a growing number of patients who recovered but may need a lung transplant over the next few years,” Zaas said. “There’s really a lot of uncertainty about what are the long term effects of severe infection and how that will impact lung transplant.”
For now, Nacovitch is improving and staying near MUSC to continue his recovery.
“We’re just so grateful to have another chance,” Nacovitch’s wife, Melissa, said. “It could have gone much differently.”