Man gets life-saving transplant in Arizona after battling COVID


51-year-old Byron Bolanos helped his patients breathe again for more than two decades, but COVID-19 scarred his lungs beyond repair last year.

PHOENIX — Louisiana respiratory therapist Byron Bolanos has taken pride in helping patients take a deep breath for more than two decades. “We pride ourselves in being able to fix people and get them off of a ventilator,” said Bolanos. 

But last January, Bolanos would become the patient after contracting COVID-19. The virus scarred his lungs beyond repair and put the life-long Dallas Cowboys fan and father of two on a ventilator. 

“I don’t remember”

“The virus just got worse to where I don’t remember them discussing to put me on a ventilator,” said Bolanos. “I was taking care of COVID-19 patients and I never thought I could get so sick. Once I tested positive for the virus, I hoped that it would be a mild case and that I could just rest and quarantine, and then get better,” recalled Bolanos. “Unfortunately, that was not my experience with COVID-19.” 

His physicians reached out to physicians at Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Norton Thoracic Institute in Phoenix. 

“Byron’s case was similar to a lot of COVID-19 patients. His lungs were incredibly scarred,” said Lara Schaheen, MD, one of Bolanos’ lung transplant surgeons at Norton. “These lung transplant patients are not the same as our normal lung transplant patients. They are often healthy, young, functional, living a normal quality of life and then get sick with COVID and their lungs fail.” 

Finding a donor   

Physicians worked to find donor lungs that matched Bolanos’ blood type and were similar in size. Last July, he underwent the lifesaving double lung transplant operation.

“I had to learn how to breathe all over again. My body had to get use to the new lungs, something that’s not mine,” said Bolanos. “I’m thankful and grateful for a second chance.”   

A second chance

Bolanos’ road to recovery will be long, but each breath he takes reminds him of the second chance he’s been given through his donor. A second chance he will cherish spending with his loved ones. 

“I have two beautiful daughters and to be able to watch them grow and be able to one day walk my daughters down the aisle,” said Bolanos.     

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