After more than 100 days in a hospital, 62 of them hooked up to an ECMO machine, an artificial lung, for life support and after receiving a double-lung transplant, Cui Zhiqiang, 65, is on the way to recovery.
COVID-19 patient Cui Zhiqiang, 65, receives a double-lung transplant after 62 days of ECMO therapy at Renmin Hospital of Wuhan University in Wuhan, Central China's Hubei province, on April 20, 2020. (Gifs: CCTV)
Doctors at Renmin Hospital of Wuhan University managed to save him on April 20 by performing a double lung transplant for pulmonary fibrosis caused by COVID-19 infections. Before the surgery, Cui had been hooked up to an ECMO machine since Feb 18.
His recovery from the deadly disease is another example of how China spares no effort to save the infected and will do whatever it takes to stop the epidemic from claiming more lives.
The country and its leaders always give people's lives and health top priority and place the people's interests above everything else. The overall recovery rate of the more than 2,500 COVID-19 patients aged above 80 in Wuhan was nearly 70 percent. Seven centenarians in Wuhan were discharged from the hospital, and the oldest was 108.
Cui developed a high temperature on Jan 23 and was confirmed to be infected with COVID-19 on Feb 7.
His condition deteriorated rapidly and he was put on a ventilator on Feb 17 at Wuhan Red Cross Hospital. He was put on the ECMO machine the next day because his blood oxygen level was too low.
On March 18, he was transferred to the east branch of Renmin Hospital of Wuhan University, and on April 6 he was transferred to the hospital's intensive care unit.
Suitable organs for lung transplants arrive at Renmin Hospital of Wuhan University in Wuhan, Central China's Hubei province, on April 20, 2020.
Although repeated nucleic acid tests indicated that the 65-year-old had recovered from the virus, it had caused irreversible, lethal damage to his lungs, putting him on the brink of death.
Doctors decided the only way to save his life was through a double lung transplant. On April 20, suitable organs provided by a donor who passed away that day were flown to Wuhan from Yunnan province.
The lifesaving surgery took place in a negative pressure operating room with the whole surgical team dressed in positive-pressure headgear and protective suits for the six-hour operation.
"The risks are very high when it comes to lung transplants for end-stage COVID-19 patients," said Lin Huiqing, chief physician of the thoracic surgery department of Renmin Hospital of Wuhan University.
"The medical workers who participated in the surgery could barely communicate due to the headgear, and we had to rely on experience and tacit cooperation to finish it, which posed extreme challenges to our physical and psychological strength."
Two days later, Cui was removed from the ECMO machine for the first time in 62 days. Under the meticulous care of doctors and nurses, he also weathered multiple risks including transplant organ rejection.
On April 24, he was fully conscious, though unable to speak properly due to throat damage caused by the monthslong intubation.
Starting from April 27, chest tubes inserted into Cui's left and right pleural cavities were removed. The urinary catheter and peripherally inserted central catheter were also removed. On May 4, Cui could swallow, drink, cough and speak as well as sit up and move his arms and legs.
Li Guang, an associate professor at the department of intensive care medicine of Renmin Hospital of Wuhan University, said the medical team has made a sound and thorough rehabilitation plan to restore his muscle strength after being bedridden for a lengthy period.
He has tried to eat by himself and was able to breathe without any oxygen support on May 6, Li said.
There could be a long way to go before Cui is completely back to normal, but the medical team will spare no efforts in helping him, he added.
Separately, on April 24, another COVID-19 patient who received a double-lung transplant, after 73 days of ECMO therapy, is now recovering and able to communicate with medical workers, according to the Union Hospital affiliated to Tongji Medical College of Huazhong University of Science and Technology in Wuhan.
The 54-year-old man has stable vital signs, and the transplanted lungs are functioning well, the hospital said.