After being hospitalized for COVID-19 in June, Toño Mauri underwent a lung transplant at UF Health Shands Hospital.
Like many other survivors, the Mexican actor and singer’s lungs were permanently damaged by the virus. Ultimately, a transplant was his only option for recovery.
“We are increasingly seeing patients who have contracted the virus, battled it, but at the cost of severe lung damage,” said Tiago Machuca, M.D., Ph.D., chief of the division of thoracic surgery and surgical director of the lung transplant program.
When Mauri came to UF Health, he had been fighting the aftereffects of COVID-19 for five months. He’d needed mechanical ventilation, a tracheotomy and even ECMO for 44 days, Machuca said.
Although he was removed from ECMO, Mauri remained highly dependent on mechanical ventilation to keep his body oxygenated.
“It’s unusual to see complete lung recovery once you are so far out from the original onset of illness,” Machuca said.
By the time Machuca met Mauri, the actor was showing signs of advanced chronic lung disease.
“There comes a point where it is not reasonable to believe that he would be weaned from the ventilator,” Machuca said.
As soon as Mauri arrived at UF Health on Nov. 25, the lung transplant team hit the ground running.
“We continue to see the devastation COVID-19 creates for the patients,” said Andres Pelaez, M.D., medical director of the lung transplant program and an associate professor of medicine in the UF College of Medicine. “Toño Mauri went from a minor “gripa” to complete destruction of his lungs.”
Currently, there are many patients in the U.S. who continue to struggle with severe lung damage after COVID-19, Pelaez said. Fortunately, Mauri worked with a multidisciplinary team that included physical therapists, occupational therapists, respiratory therapist and nurses in the ICU.
“We worked very hard to get him well enough to qualify as a transplant candidate,” Pelaez said.
After just one week their efforts paid off, and Mauri was listed.
Donor lungs are allocated according to the severity of the recipient’s pulmonary condition. Those whose conditions are acute, and require a high level of mechanical support, are placed closer to the top of the transplant list, Machuca said.
“His wait time on the list was 14 days,” Machuca said. “We often transplant patients in severe conditions within this time frame, if not sooner.”
Machuca describes Mauri as heavily motivated—both by his strong support system, and by all the goals he still wants to accomplish.
“He can get his life back,” Machuca said. “This procedure was not only meant to save his life, but to ensure its quality.”
Only 48 hours after his transplant, Mauri is awake and practicing breathing on his own in small intervals for the first time in months. He is the eighth patient to receive a lung transplant at UF Health for lung damage from COVID-19.
“He wasn’t getting better,” said Carla Alemán, Mauri’s wife. “I took it into my own hands.”
She looked to a physician consultant group, who researched a variety of institutions and identified UF Health as Mauri’s best chance.
“I needed the best—so we came here,” Alemán said.
The Scientific Registry of Transplant Recipients (SRTR) ranks UF Health’s lung transplant program as first in the nation for one year survival after transplantation among other large, high volume transplant centers.
“This is the best Christmas present we could have asked for,” Alemán said.