It’s home at last for SA’s first Covid-19 lung transplant patient
DURBAN - In November last year, expectant mom, Mbali Mbatha, was rushed to hospital after contracting Covid-19. Now, more than 100 days later, she is ready to go home and spend time with her daughter and family.
Mbatha was hospitalised in an effort to safeguard both her life and that of her unborn child.
Her condition quickly deteriorated and by December 1, her obstetrician had to deliver her baby at 30 weeks via emergency C-section.
Mbatha said she was shocked when she was told about the C-section.
"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.
“All I remember is the cold, it was terribly cold in the operating theatre. I felt so alone – my husband could not be with me. 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 Mbatha was brought to Milpark where she was in serious danger as both her lungs were severely affected with pneumonia.
"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, Mbatha was immediately rushed to theatre where she was placed on extra-corporeal 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 said.
Williams and Sussman said the case was a rare procedure for patients with established lung disease such as cystic fibrosis and other conditions. They said this was only done when all other treatments were 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," Williams said.
He said to be able to carry out a transplant on Mbatha, it 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," Williams added.
Mbali said she remembers delivering her baby and then waking up in the Netcare Milpark Hospital weeks later.
"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.
Despite everything she has gone through, Mbali has left Netcare Milpark Hospital with good memories and much to be thankful for: "The staff are very warm and caring. They ended up feeling like family. The encouragement that the nursing staff and doctors gave me on a daily basis really carried me through.
“They made me feel like everything was going to be okay. I am so thankful to be here today and that I have been given an opportunity to raise my daughter. I am grateful to the doctors and staff of Netcare Park Lane Hospital and Netcare Milpark Hospital. I am particularly grateful to the donor and the brave family for the gift of life, which ensured that I was given this second chance," she said.
Mbatha added that her husband had given her lots of moral support and encouragement.
"He only ever had positive things to say. He was a constant source of inspiration throughout my recovery, and he kept telling me that I would walk out of the hospital. During the time that I have been in hospital my mother, Christine has been looking after my baby. While I am sad that I missed out on so much time with her, I am eternally thankful that my mother was there to care for her. More than anything I thank God for saving my life and giving me a second chance at life," she said.
Netcare Milpark Hospital GM, Marc van Heerden said Mbatha's discharge was a proud moment.
"We are very grateful to the doctors, the nurses, the staff and the donor for giving this family a new chance in life," he said.