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A male nurse escorts a female patient to her room as she recovers from receiving her transplant.

Lonnie Dunlap's Transplant Journey

Lonnie Dunlap's Transplant Journey

There continue to be many medical accomplishments made around the world as scientists and physicians work to develop and refine research treatment strategies and vaccines to fight the COVID pandemic. Mr. Lonnie Dunlap is a success story from early on in the pandemic, despite much uncertainty and a risk of the unknown when dealing with COVID Positive Donors. He represents a historical transplant for the Division of Abdominal Transplantation, as he was the first patient at Baylor St. Luke’s Medical Center (BSLMC) to receive a liver transplant allograft from a COVID positive donor.

Mr. Dunlap began suffering from liver failure in 2017. He first noticed severe swelling in his legs. Although he knew something was very wrong, his main priority was providing care for his son who was extremely ill at the time. By 2019, he was constantly bloated and his weight had increased significantly. Mr. Dunlap was requiring paracentesis procedures weekly, where fluid is drained from the abdomen to take pressure off of vital organs. He knew that he needed help from the Hepatology Specialists at BSLMC to get better. He made frequent trips to BSLMC to receive care from the triple-boarded hepatology team. Despite the excellent care he received, his liver failure progressed, and the team began the liver transplant evaluation process. Most of the appointments for his liver transplant evaluation were during the pandemic. To maximize his chances for a successful evaluation and possible transplant, he followed CDC guidelines and received his COVID vaccines as soon as they were available. By October of 2021, he was placed on the national waiting list and knew the only way he would get better was from a life-saving liver transplant.

On November 11th, he was in the grocery store parking lot when he received a phone call from Dr. Rise Stribling, the BSLMC Liver Transplant Medical Director.  Dr. Stribling then conferenced called his wife to notify them that a liver had been allocated to Mr. Dunlap, but that the donor had tested positive for COVID. Dr. Stribling discussed the possible risks and benefits of accepting a liver allograft from a COVID positive donor and answered their questions. Mr. and Mrs. Dunlap trusted Dr. Stribling and the liver transplant team at BSLMC to act in his best interests and they agreed to accept the liver. At that point, he had already received the full series of COVID vaccines including the first two doses and a third dose, as a booster, so he was as prepared as he could be to move forward with transplant. He remembers sitting in his hospital bed later that night and hearing a helicopter land on the hospital roof, and he knew the transplant team had arrived with his donor liver.  The morning after his transplant, he woke up feeling good and was sent home from the hospital only five days later. Mr. Dunlap was able to spend the holidays recovering at home with his family. He is very grateful to his donor family and the liver transplant team at BSLMC.  His advice to anyone in a similar situation is to trust their medical team to help them make the best decisions regarding their care, to make sure they have a great support system, and to stay up to date on their COVID vaccines.

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