PHOENIX — From helping rehabilitate COVID-19 patients to getting a positive diagnosis of his own and needing a double-lung transplant, one man is looking back at his journey with the virus.
Byron Bolanos was a respiratory therapist at Louisiana State University for more than 20 years. After seeing the effects of COVID-19 firsthand, Bolanos received a positive test result of his own in January 2021 and a month later was admitted to the emergency room.
“My oxygen level was in the 70s to low 80s, so they admitted me and three days later I just kept getting worse and I was intubated,” Bolanos said.
Bolanos, 51, was admitted to Ochsner LSU Health Shreveport, the same hospital he worked at for two decades. Doctors put him on ECMO in hopes to reduce the stress COVID-19 was putting on his lungs.
He was on ECMO for more than 100 days, but his lungs showed no sign of improvement.
“They decided after that the only way to get me off the ECMO and breathing on my own was to have a double-lung transplant,” Bolanos said.
Bolanos said he never expected a double-lung transplant to be the outcome of him contracting the virus.
“I wasn’t thinking it was going to progress this far. I never had any health issues. I was telling myself that it was just going to be a few days, just let the virus take its course,” he said.
Bolanos was transferred to Phoenix for the surgery, with Dr. Lara Scaheen of Dignity Health’s Norton Thoracic Institute performing the procedure.
“Byron’s lungs showed such significant scarring and such little function that he was entirely dependent on the ECMO machine, ventilator and oxygen,” Schaheen said.
Before Bolanos was able to come to the facility, he was denied by multiple lung transplant centers across the country.
“At the time there weren’t a lot of centers that were doing lung transplants for patients who had end-stage lung scarring from COVID-19,” Schaheen said.
However, Bolanos’s colleagues at LSU made sure he was able to get the transplant he needed.
“Some of the very same people that he has worked aside for the last 20 years reached out to their contacts here at Norton,” Schaheen said. “They were the ones who actually helped make that connection.”
Bolanos received his new set of lungs on July 10 of last year and was released from the hospital on Dec 1., 300 days after he was first admitted to the hospital.
“They tell me everything looks great, my lungs look great on the X-rays, everything, all my numbers look good,” Bolanos said.
He will remain in Arizona for a few more months for observation before heading back home to Louisiana.