Stephanie Stahl reports.
UKEE WASHINGTON: Patients with serious cases of COVID-19 can end up with lung damage, and there is one man from Reading who is recovering from the first lung transplant performed in Pennsylvania. Health reporter Stephanie Stahl was here with details on the historic operation.
STEPHANIE STAHL: Well, Ukee, today is the beginning of National Donate Life Month to raise awareness about the gift of life. And transplants during a pandemic, it's become a whole new field of medicine, one with many potential dangers. This first COVID lung transplant patient at Penn, well, it's a remarkable story of medical intervention and survival.
FRED RAHMANIAN: They were my inspiration.
STEPHANIE STAHL: It's the family photos that helped Fred Rahmanian recover from a life-threatening bout with COVID-19.
FRED RAHMANIAN: My oxygen rate dropped drastically.
STEPHANIE STAHL: Almost everyone in the family got the virus and recovered, but Fred didn't. COVID destroyed his lungs. The only way to save his life was a lung transplant. And this 54-year-old father of triplets had a lot to live for.
FRED RAHMANIAN: I want to see my kids' graduation. I want to see 'em turn 18. I want to see 'em go to college. There's so many things that we haven't done yet.
STEPHANIE STAHL: Remarkably, a donor was quickly matched, but Penn Medicine had never done a lung transplant on a COVID patient. There'd only been a few in the world.
This being the first, what was that like dealing with so many unknowns?
CHRISTIAN BERMUDEZ: It becomes technically very challenging.
- Dr. Christian Bermudez, the director of the thoracic transplant at Penn Medicine, says the operation was tricky because Fred was medically compromised, and surgery during a pandemic is filled with risks and extra safety protocols.
CHRISTIAN BERMUDEZ: It really has been catastrophic for every single medical team in the US. Initially, we were very concerned and very scared, actually.
STEPHANIE STAHL: But Fred's historic transplant was a success.
FRED RAHMANIAN: They essentially granted me a miracle by choosing to do this for me. And I know being the first is not always easy. I was told that you made history. You're the first one in Pennsylvania. I'm grateful for Penn for taking a chance.
STEPHANIE STAHL: Now, three months after the transplant, Fred is getting stronger every day in physical therapy.
CHRISTIAN BERMUDEZ: We're really happy that Fred did so well. It's, you know, something that brings the energy back to the team.
STEPHANIE STAHL: And Penn has now done three COVID lung transplants. Fred is back to celebrating birthdays and other milestones with his family. Ukee?
UKEE WASHINGTON: Wonderful, wonderful. Stephanie, thank you.