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COVID-19 patient survives double lung transplant in Houston

Damage to Thomas Steele's lungs had become so severe, doctors were forced to perform a double lung transplant surgery.

HOUSTON — Thomas Steele is thankful for a gift too often taken for granted: a healthy pair of lungs. 

Steele, who is in his early 50s, was hospitalized with a severe case of coronavirus that resulted in him needing a double lung transplant. He is the first double lung transplant patient at Houston Methodist Hospital and one of just a few survivors across Texas.

Steele was finally discharged Monday, just in time for the Thanksgiving holiday.

He contracted the virus over the summer while in his hometown of New Braunfels. In the beginning, Steele expected to have mild symptoms. He had no preexisting conditions and didn't fit the usual description of those with life-threatening coronavirus cases.

“I was thinking, ‘Eh, you know, two weeks. I’ll just work my way through it,’" Steele said.

He couldn't imagine what was ahead.

“Within two days, I felt like someone was sitting on my chest," Steele said.

Hospitalized in San Antonio, his condition worsened into severe COVID-19 symptoms and pneumonia.

He was placed on ECMO, which is the next step doctors turn to for respiratory support when a ventilator isn't enough. It's an intricate system that provides patients with a mechanical heart and lungs while the body heals.

Steele was on ECMO for more than two months, the hospital said. His once healthy lungs suffered so much damage while his body fought COVID-19 that he was transplanted on Oct. 21 at Houston Methodist.

“As far as my lungs, they kept getting worse and worse," Steele said. "Within 5 days, because I was pretty bad off, within five days, they found lungs for me."

Steele admits he wasn't diligent in following coronavirus guidelines, but following an intensive three-month hospital stay, he is warning others to take the pandemic seriously.

“You don’t realize how bad it can get or affect somebody, and that’s the biggest thing. We don’t know anything about this disease yet," Steele said. “One day, maybe I didn’t wear a mask correctly or I didn’t wear a mask at the right place. I ended up catching COVID, and it ended up costing me my lungs."

While he survived the coronavirus and a double lung transplant surgery, Steele has a long road ahead of him as he continues to recover.

“I'm very thankful, I mean, I'm thankful for the organ donor himself, his family, because they lost somebody. I’m also very thankful for my friends and family, all of their prayers," Steele said.

For now, he will be staying at Nora's Home, which is an affordable rehabilitation home in Houston for organ transplant survivors.