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South Texas’s first COVID-19 lung transplant patient urges people to take this virus seriously

Six weeks after receiving two new lungs from a deceased donor, Jose Sosa, 39, delivered a powerful warning to people who may be tempted to mingle in crowds and socialize without a mask.

“Quit pretending that it’s fake,” he said as he talked about his battle with COVID-19 during a virtual press conference captured on a video recording at University Hospital in San Antonio. “Protect yourself, protect your family. Stay away from as many people as you can who are not in your immediate household.”

Sosa is the first patient in South Texas and among the first in the country to receive a double-lung transplant after complications caused by COVID-19.

The Corpus Christi resident entered a hospital in his hometown on July 4 after he tested positive for the coronavirus and began having difficulty breathing. He said he had no known underlying conditions, and does not know how he became infected. He was, however, often in contact with a lot of people through his work at a garden center and as a disc jockey for entertainment venues and parties.

Sosa was transferred to a San Antonio hospital when his condition worsened and was evaluated for a lung transplant by a team at the University Health Transplant Center at University Hospital.

On Oct. 25, Dr. Edward Sako, surgical director for the lung transplant program and on faculty at UT Health San Antonio, performed the 6-hour surgery that gave Sosa two new lungs. On Dec. 2, nearly five months after entering a hospital, Mr. Sosa was able to go home.

“I feel very blessed, thankful, grateful. I’m just happy to be alive,” he said.

Dr. Sako said physicians are still learning when COVID-19 patients with damaged lungs will improve and when they need a transplant to survive.

“It became clear over time (Sosa) was not going to recover from this,” Dr. Sako said. “That’s how we came to the conclusion he would be a candidate for lung transplant.”

With a rise in the number of COVID-19 cases across the country, many transplant centers are preparing for an increase in coronavirus patients who will need new lungs.

“All lung transplant centers are seeing more referrals, at least to evaluate and see if this is someone who would benefit from a lung transplant,” said Dr. Debbie Levine, a pulmonologist on faculty at UT Health San Antonio and medical director of the lung transplant program at University Transplant Center.

Sosa is hoping his story will convince at least some who are letting their guard down to mask up and take precautions, so they are never faced with the need for a transplant to survive.
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