Henry Ford performs Michigan's 1st COVID-19-linked double lung transplant after woman gives birth

The Detroit News

Henry Ford Health System said Wednesday surgeons performed what it believes is Michigan's first double lung transplant in January in a woman whose lungs were damaged by COVID-19.

The operation was performed Jan. 16 on Jackie Dennis, a 31-year-old special education teacher at Huron School District in New Boston, who two months earlier had given birth.

Jackie Dennis with her daughter, Mia Rose.

Her hospital team said it was struck by Dennis' "fighting spirit through weeks of adversity" that began Nov. 20, when, at 35 weeks pregnant, she was not feeling well and showed up in the Emergency Department with a cough, headache and trouble breathing. She had COVID-19, doctors told her.

“We have all marveled at just how amazing and inspirational her progress has been,” said Dr. Lisa Allenspach, medical director of Henry Ford’s Lung Transplant Program, in a news release Wednesday. “It has been a hard-fought battle on many fronts to get to this day." 

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The transplant took place at Henry Ford Hospital in Detroit, according to the release. Dennis had given birth to her daughter, Mia Rose, seven weeks earlier. She returned home Feb. 19 after 91 days in two hospitals in the Henry Ford system.

“After being away so long, I just wanted to get home and be with my family. I missed my husband and baby so much,” said Jackie Dennis, with her husband, Ricky Dennis, and daughter, Mia Rose.

“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.”

Her husband, Ricky Dennis, recalled the frightening days as his wife struggled with deteriorating health. He and other family members tended to Mia Rose during Dennis' extended hospital stay.

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

Doctors induced labor in Dennis at 36 weeks, a week after she was diagnosed with COVID-19; Mia Rose was born healthy on Nov. 27, doctors said, one month before her due date.

Mia Rose

But Dennis developed pneumonia after giving birth and she eventually was placed on a ventilator. On Dec. 10, she was transferrred to intensive care and later moved to the cardiovascular ICU and placed on an ECMO, a specialized breathing machine. The hospital is only one of a handful, according to the release, that has the machine that pumps blood from a patient's body to an oxygenator, an artificial lung outside of the body.

Attempts to remove Dennis from the ECMO were unsuccessful and she was placed on a national organ transplant waiting list. On Jan. 16, two lungs were available, doctors learned, and later that day, the transplant took place.

Dr. Hassan Nemeh described the lungs as the "worst he's ever seen."

“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,” Allenspach said.

Jackie Dennis works on gaining strength after her COVID-19 diagnosis, giving birth and undergoing a double lung transplant. She returned home in February, said Henry Ford Health System doctors.