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Man hails success of first UK double lung transplant for Covid complications

Cesar Franco became the first patient in the UK to receive a double lung transplant after developing complications from a Covid-19 infection (Cesar Franco/PA)
Cesar Franco became the first patient in the UK to receive a double lung transplant after developing complications from a Covid-19 infection (Cesar Franco/PA)

A 50-year-old man who was “shackled to life support machines” has been given a new lease of life after the first double lung transplant in the UK for complications due to a Covid-19 infection.

Cesar Franco, a maintenance engineer at a five-star hotel in central London, caught Covid-19 just before Christmas last year.

The father-of-one, from Streatham in south London, was fit and healthy before he caught the infection, but within a few days he deteriorated to the point where he had to be placed on a ventilator and life support machine at St Thomas’ hospital in central London.

He went on to develop inflammation of the lungs, leading to lung fibrosis – scarring of the lung tissue which meant he was unable to breath on his own.

Mr Franco remained in the intensive care unit (ICU) for five months before being transferred to Harefield Hospital, where he went on to receive a double lung transplant; the first of its kind in the UK.

His surgeon described him as being a “prisoner in ICU” before the operation.

Mr Franco received the transplant in June and is now recuperating at home after being discharged at the end of August.

He hopes to gradually return to work in the coming year, but at the moment he is spending time with his family – his wife, Gosia, and his 13-year-old son Gabriel – and taking daily walks.

Cesar Franco became the first patient in the UK to receive a double lung transplant after developing complications from a Covid-19 infection (Cesar Franco/PA)

Professor John Dunning, director of heart and lung transplantation at Harefield Hospital, said, “Cesar’s story exemplifies everything that is great about the NHS, receiving excellent care throughout his journey.

“He was someone with an acute illness whose condition deteriorated to a point where he required the expert care from ICU staff and mechanical life support.

“At this point it was almost like he was a prisoner in ICU, shackled to life support machines which were the difference between life and death. Freedom from this prison happened when he was referred to the lung transplant service at Harefield and was given a second chance at life.

“He received his transplant and was rehabilitated to return home a couple of months after his operation. He is now flourishing and is able to spend time with his wife and son, less than a year on from acquiring a life-threatening illness.

Mr Franco spent around eight months in hospital after catching Covid-19 (Cesar Franco/PA)
Mr Franco spent around eight months in hospital after catching Covid-19 (Cesar Franco/PA)

“Cesar was fortunate because he was able to receive a transplant.

“We have seen a decrease in organ donors since the beginning of the pandemic, and as a result, many patients on transplant lists are not living long enough to receive an organ.”

Mr Franco, who had not received a Covid-19 jab before he caught the virus but has since been vaccinated, said: “It was a very frightening experience and I didn’t know if I would ever leave the hospital.

“I initially was hesitant when the doctors spoke to me about transplantation – I wanted my body to heal on its own, but it quickly became clear that this wasn’t an option for me, I was just so unwell.

“The doctors, nurses and physiotherapists that were by my side during my time in the hospital became my rock.

UK’s first Covid-19 double-lung transplant
Cesar Franco in hospital (Cesar Franco/PA)

“They all treated me with the most respect, professionalism and compassion. They made sure to support me physically and emotionally during my lowest and most vulnerable times. I can’t thank them enough for taking care of me.

“My donor gave me the gift of life with their selfless decision to be an organ donor.

“I am now able to live my life again and I want to get everything out of life now I have been given this precious gift.

“Thank you to my donor, thank you to their family and thank you to the medical teams who have all got me to where I am now. And last but not least, I am endlessly thankful for my lovely wife and son for always showing me their love and support during this difficult time.”