Henry Ford Health System Performs Michigan’s 1st Double-Lung Transplant Linked to COVID-19

March 17, 2021
lung transplant

DETROIT (March 17, 2021) – Henry Ford Health System performed what is believed to be Michigan’s first double-lung transplant on a Wyandotte woman whose lungs were irreparably damaged by COVID-19 and who two months earlier gave birth for the first time.

Jackie Dennis, 31, a special education teacher at the Huron School District in New Boston, Mich., located about 20 miles west of Detroit, said she is fortunate to be alive and thankful for the care she received at Henry Ford.

“No one expected me to leave the hospital so fast, but I had an amazing team of doctors and nurses,” Dennis said. “After being away so long, I just wanted to get home and be with my family. I missed my husband and baby so much.”

Dennis’ fighting spirit through weeks of adversity made quite the impression on her medical team.

“We have all marveled at just how amazing and inspirational her progress has been,” said Lisa Allenspach, M.D., Medical Director of Henry Ford’s Lung Transplant Program. “It has been a hard-fought battle on many fronts to get to this day. Jackie’s positive attitude and will to survive combined with the persistence and skill of the surgeons and medical teams – everyone working together, that’s what makes miracles happen.”

Dennis underwent the transplant at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit on January 16, seven weeks after the birth of her daughter Mia Rose. After one week in inpatient rehab, she returned home on Feb. 19 – culminating a 91-day hospital stay between two hospitals in the Henry Ford Health System.

Ricky Dennis, who along with other family members have been taking care of the couple’s 16-week-old daughter, said he endured some scary and difficult days watching his wife’s health deteriorate.

“It has been a crazy whirlwind,” he said, adding that not being able to visit his wife because of hospital visitor restrictions made it even tougher.

Dennis’ medical odyssey began Nov. 20 when her husband drove her to the Emergency Department at Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital. She was 35 weeks pregnant and had not been feeling well. She had a cough, headache and was having trouble breathing. She had been suffering from preeclampsia, a pregnancy complication characterized by high blood pressure and can cause swelling and in some cases affect breathing.

During the medical evaluation, Dennis received a COVID-19 nasal swab and the test came back positive. She was promptly admitted and one week later, doctors induced her labor at 36 weeks. Mia Rose was born healthy on Nov. 27, one month before the baby’s expected due date.

Shortly after giving birth, Dennis developed pneumonia and her lung function worsened to the point where she was placed on a ventilator. In many patients with COVID-19, the infection can progress to severe respiratory failure and acute respiratory distress syndrome requiring mechanical ventilation.

On December 10, Dennis was transferred to the intensive care unit at Henry Ford Hospital, a Level 1 trauma center known for its expertise in critical care medicine. She was later moved to the cardiovascular ICU and placed on a specialized breathing machine called ECMO. Henry Ford Hospital is among only a handful of hospitals specially trained and equipped to use this unique type of life-support, which pumps blood from a patient’s body to an oxygenator— an artificial lung located outside the body. It adds oxygen to the blood and removes carbon dioxide replacing the function of the person's own lungs. ECMO is used in critical care situations when a patient is extremely ill and their lungs or heart needs help. Some lung conditions that ECMO may be used for, include care for COVID-19, acute respiratory distress syndrome and other infections. It can be an option when other life support measures have not worked.

“When things were not looking hopeful, the courage and persistence of the team to go aggressively with ECMO was important in the transition for her to be able to receive a transplant,” said Hassan Nemeh, M.D., Surgical Director of Thoracic Organ Transplant at Henry Ford.

After attempts to wean Dennis off ECMO were unsuccessful and with no signs her lungs would recover, doctors listed her name on the national organ transplant waiting list in a final attempt to save her life. On January 16, doctors were notified that two lungs were available. Later that day, the transplant was performed by a team led by thoracic surgeon Daizo Tanaka, M.D. and cardiothoracic surgeon Dimitrios Apostolou, M.D.

Dr. Nemeh described the removed lungs as the “worst he’s ever seen,” underscoring the ferocity of the damaged caused by the coronavirus.

“I really anticipated that Jackie was someone who probably would have been in the hospital for many months as part of her recovery given how sick she was going into the transplant. She has really amazed us all,” Dr. Allenspach said.

Dennis, who coaches the cheer team at Huron High School, said she constantly reminded herself of the theme the team chose for the school year during her time in the hospital. It was “Bring Back the Fight.”

About Henry Ford Health System
Founded in 1915 by Henry Ford himself, Henry Ford Health System is a non-profit, integrated health system committed to improving people’s lives through excellence in the science and art of healthcare and healing. Henry Ford Health System includes Henry Ford Medical Group, with more than 1,900 physicians and researchers practicing in more than 50 specialties at locations throughout Southeast and Central Michigan. Acute care hospitals include Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, MI and Henry Ford Allegiance Health in Jackson, MI – both Magnet® hospitals; Henry Ford Macomb Hospital; Henry Ford West Bloomfield Hospital; and Henry Ford Wyandotte Hospital.

The largest of these is Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, a quaternary care research and teaching hospital and Level 1 Trauma Center recognized for clinical excellence in cardiology, cardiovascular surgery, neurology, neurosurgery, and multi-organ transplants. The health system also provides comprehensive, best-in-class care for cancer at the Brigitte Harris Cancer Pavilion, and orthopedics and sports medicine at the William Clay Ford Center for Athletic Medicine – both in Detroit.

As one of the nation’s leading academic medical centers, Henry Ford Health System annually trains more than 3,000 medical students, residents, and fellows in more than 50 accredited programs, and has trained nearly 40% of the state’s physicians. Our dedication to education and research is supported by nearly $100 million in annual grants from the National Institutes of Health and other public and private foundations.

Henry Ford’s not-for-profit health plan, Health Alliance Plan (HAP), provides health coverage for more than 540,000 people.

Henry Ford Health System employs more than 33,000 people, including more than 1,600 physicians, more than 6,600 nurses and 5,000 allied health professionals.

EDITOR’S NOTE: Lung transplantation is a life-saving treatment for a variety of end-stage lung diseases. Annually, more than 2,700 lung transplants are performed in the United States with a 1-year survival of over 90 percent and a 3-year survival of over 75%. To sign up on the Michigan Organ Donor registry, go to www.golm.org/go/hfhs

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NEWS MEDIA ONLY may contact: Synthia Bryant / [email protected] / 248-421-8686