New mom finally holds baby in her arms after surviving Covid-19 and lung transplant

Dr Paul Williams, pulmonologist intensivist (left) and Dr Martin Sussman, cardiothoracic surgeon, who both practise at Netcare Milpark Hospital, admire baby Kuhle as her proud mother, Mbali and father, Sizwe look on.
Dr Paul Williams, pulmonologist intensivist (left) and Dr Martin Sussman, cardiothoracic surgeon, who both practise at Netcare Milpark Hospital, admire baby Kuhle as her proud mother, Mbali and father, Sizwe look on.
Image: Supplied

A 27-year-old mother who had to undergo a lung transplant shortly after giving birth due to a Covid-19 infection has finally left the hospital holding her three-month-old daughter in her arms.

Mbali Mbatha's miraculous health journey began on November 23 2020, when the severely ill expectant mother was hospitalised in an effort to safeguard both her and her unborn child.

Her condition however deteriorated and by 1 December her obstetrician made a decision to deliver the baby at 30 weeks via emergency C-section.

“I was shocked when the doctor told me that he needed to prepare for a C-section and operate immediately. When I realised that I would not be able to carry full term I was devastated. I phoned my husband, Sizwe, who calmed me down and said I must let them take the baby out as it would be best for us. All I remember is the cold, it was terribly cold in the operating theatre," said Mbatha.

Shortly after the delivery at Netcare Park Lane Hospital, the mother's condition worsened due to her Covid-19 infection and she was transferred to Netcare Milpark Hospital.

"She was in serious danger as both her lungs were affected from top to bottom with pneumonia and she was not extracting oxygen from the air. We immediately had to escalate her treatment to a more sophisticated form of care than what would generally be needed by most patients with Covid-pneumonia,” said Dr Paul Williams, pulmonologist intensivist at Netcare Milpark Hospital.

While Mbatha eventually recovered from Covid-19, her lungs did not recover.

"One of the complications of Covid-19 is that it sometimes damages the lungs extensively. In Mbatha's case the damage was irreversible. Her only chance of survival was to receive a donor lung,” said cardiothoracic surgeon, Dr Martin Sussman.

Performing a lung transplant on a Covid-19 affected patient was a first for the medical team.

"We have had no experience in transplantation with this virus and we are fairly sure that we are the first team in South Africa to do it – perhaps we are even the first team on the African continent. Throughout the world there have been only around 100 lung transplants performed so far for Covid-19 pneumonia at a handful of facilities,” said Williams.

“To be able to do a transplant on this young woman, who is also a mother, was really something special. We did it for her and her baby. Being part of this remarkable team that can make this kind of difference is an immense honour,” Williams said.

Mbatha's next recollection after delivering her baby was waking up in hospital, many weeks later.

“Some time after I woke up, I was told that I had been in a coma for two months and that I had a lung transplant. In fact, it seemed that there was very little hope I would survive. Had it not been for the exceptional medical care I received and for the lung transplant I would not be here today,” she said.

Despite everything she has gone through, Mbali has left the hospital with good memories and much to be thankful for: “The staff are very warm and caring. They ended up feeling like family. The encouragement that the nursing staff and doctors gave me on a daily basis really carried me through. They made me feel like everything was going to be OK.

“I am so thankful to be here today and that I have been given an opportunity to raise my daughter. I am grateful to the doctors and staff of Netcare Park Lane Hospital and Netcare Milpark Hospital. I am particularly grateful to the donor and the brave family for the gift of life, which ensured that I was given this second chance.

“My husband Sizwe has given me so much moral support and encouragement. He only ever had positive things to say. He was a constant source of inspiration throughout my recovery, and he kept telling me that I would walk out of the hospital. During the time that I have been in hospital my mother Christine has been looking after my baby. While I am sad that I missed out on so much time with her, I am eternally thankful that my mother was there to care for her. More than anything I thank God for saving my life and giving me a second chance at life,” said Mbatha.



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