High-risk patients 'nervous' as transplant surgeries halted due to Covid-19

19 July 2020 - 00:00 By alex patrick
Transplant patients are in for a longer wait as surgeries have been put on hold due to Covid-19.
Transplant patients are in for a longer wait as surgeries have been put on hold due to Covid-19.
Image: 123RF/Dario Lo Presti

Natalie Hinton is hoping for a vaccine against Covid-19 as much as she is praying for a risky double lung transplant.

With her lung capacity now at 30%, the 29-year-old Edenvale woman had been on the lung transplant list for seven months.

But she and others awaiting transplants have had to make way for Covid-19 patients. This is partly due to staff shortages, but also to the increased risk that these complex surgeries have in terms of infections.

Once it is deemed safe enough to do the operation, Hinton will have to join the waiting list again.

"My concern right now is that I'm immune-compromised," said Hinton, who was at the top of the list at a Johannesburg hospital before Covid-19 hit.

South African Thoracic Society vice-president and pulmonologist at Groote Schuur hospital professor Richard van Zyl-Smit said risks for transplant patients are just too high - which "means that someone who may urgently need a transplant during this time will die".

That was the case for a Cape Town liver transplant patient who died before the donor liver arrived. 

Dr David Thomson, president of the South African Transplant Society, who would have performed the surgery, said: "He was just too sick. We are trying our best but our resources have been repurposed… Even elective surgery has a risk of having a much worse outcome because of the virus."

Despite being at end-stage renal failure, Stella de Kock from Pretoria said she would be nervous if she was called to have her kidney transplant now.

"As a high-risk patient I'm quite stressed about having the operation and then your immune system is even more compromised, making you more susceptible to infection, not just Covid."


  • In a previous version of this article, we quoted Dr David Thomson as saying a liver transplant patient died in surgery the previous week. In fact, the patient died before the donor liver arrived. We regret the error.


Would you like to comment on this article or view other readers' comments? Register (it’s quick and free) or sign in now.

Speech Bubbles

Please read our Comment Policy before commenting.