By Kaya 959 News
After spending almost three months in hospital, Mbali Mbatha, the country’s first Covid-19 lung transplant patient has finally gone home.
Not only did the young mother from Winchester Hills in Johannesburg leave hospital with a three-month-old baby daughter – whom she met for the first time just a few weeks before – but she also left having overcome one of deadliest viruses of the 21 st century.
Mbali’s Covid-19 journey started more than 100 days prior on 23 November 2020, when the severely ill expectant mother was hospitalised in an effort to safeguard both her and her unborn child. Mbali’s condition however deteriorated and by 1 December her obstetrician was left with no choice but to deliver her baby via emergency C-section at 30 weeks.
“I was shocked when the doctor told me that he needed to prepare for a C-section and operate immediately. When I realised that I would not be able to carry full term I was devastated. I phoned my husband, Sizwe who calmed me down and said I must let them take the baby out as it would be best for us. It was a very distressing experience, as I did not even see the baby… I gave birth to my little girl and I passed out,” she said.
Netcare Milpark Hospital Pulmonologist Intensivist, Dr Paul Williams, said Mbali was brought to Netcare Milpark Hospital, shortly after she had her baby.
“She was in serious danger as both her lungs were affected from top to bottom with pneumonia and she was not extracting oxygen from the air. We immediately had to escalate her treatment to a more sophisticated form of care than what would generally be needed by most patients with Covid-pneumonia,” he said.
According to Cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr Martin Sussman, Mbali was taken straight from the ambulance into theatre where she was placed on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), which artificially maintains a supply of oxygen to the brain and other vital organs for patients who require either or both respiratory and cardiac support.
“ECMO is essentially an artificial lung. The circuit does the work of the lungs and that is how we kept Mbali alive while she had Covid-pneumonia. While Mbali eventually recovered from Covid-19, her lungs did not recover. One of the complications of Covid-19 is that it sometimes damages the lungs extensively. In Mbali’s case the damage was irreversible. Her only chance of survival was to receive a donor lung,” Sussman explained.
Dr Williams, who along with Dr Martin Sussman, led the lung transplant team performing Mbali’s surgery, said lung transplantation itself is a rare procedure for patients with established lung disease such as cystic fibrosis and other conditions.
“It is done only after all other treatments for lung failure are unsuccessful. Covid-19 is a new one for us though. We have had no experience in transplantation with this virus and we are fairly sure that we are the first team in South Africa to do it – perhaps we are even the first team on the African continent. Throughout the world there have been only around 100 lung transplants performed so far for Covid-19 pneumonia at a handful of facilities. To be able to do a transplant on this young woman who is also a mother, was really something special. We did it for her and her baby. Being part of this remarkable team that can make this kind of difference is an immense honour,” Dr Williams said.
“Some time after I woke up, I was told that I had been in a coma for two months and that I had a lung transplant. In fact, it seemed that there was very little hope I would survive. Had it not been for the exceptional medical care I received and for the lung transplant I would not be here today,” she said.
Image credit: Netcare