Man looks back on journey with COVID-19 after receiving double-lung transplant in Arizona

Apr 11, 2022, 4:45 AM | Updated: 7:44 am

PHOENIX —  From helping rehabilitate COVID-19 patients to getting a positive diagnosis of his own and needing a double-lung transplant, one man is looking back at his journey with the virus.

Byron Bolanos was a respiratory therapist at Louisiana State University for more than 20 years. After seeing the effects of COVID-19 firsthand, Bolanos received a positive test result of his own in January 2021 and a month later was admitted to the emergency room.

“My oxygen level was in the 70s to low 80s, so they admitted me and three days later I just kept getting worse and I was intubated,” Bolanos said.

Bolanos, 51, was admitted to Ochsner LSU Health Shreveport, the same hospital he worked at for two decades. Doctors put him on ECMO in hopes to reduce the stress COVID-19 was putting on his lungs.

He was on ECMO for more than 100 days, but his lungs showed no sign of improvement.

“They decided after that the only way to get me off the ECMO and breathing on my own was to have a double-lung transplant,” Bolanos said.

Bolanos said he never expected a double-lung transplant to be the outcome of him contracting the virus.

“I wasn’t thinking it was going to progress this far. I never had any health issues. I was telling myself that it was just going to be a few days, just let the virus take its course,” he said.

Bolanos was transferred to Phoenix for the surgery, with Dr. Lara Scaheen of Dignity Health’s Norton Thoracic Institute performing the procedure.

“Byron’s lungs showed such significant scarring and such little function that he was entirely dependent on the ECMO machine, ventilator and oxygen,” Schaheen said.

Before Bolanos was able to come to the facility, he was denied by multiple lung transplant centers across the country.

“At the time there weren’t a lot of centers that were doing lung transplants for patients who had end-stage lung scarring from COVID-19,” Schaheen said.

However, Bolanos’s colleagues at LSU made sure he was able to get the transplant he needed.

“Some of the very same people that he has worked aside for the last 20 years reached out to their contacts here at Norton,” Schaheen said. “They were the ones who actually helped make that connection.”

Bolanos received his new set of lungs on July 10 of last year and was released from the hospital on Dec 1., 300 days after he was first admitted to the hospital.

“They tell me everything looks great, my lungs look great on the X-rays, everything, all my numbers look good,” Bolanos said.

He will remain in Arizona for a few more months for observation before heading back home to Louisiana.

We want to hear from you.

Have a story idea or tip? Pass it along to the KTAR News team here.

Arizona News

Tempe Police Chief Kenneth McCoy called issues with the Forensic Services Unit ‘problematic’ af...

Nicole Grigg/ABC15 Arizona

Tempe police chief addresses problems with unit that processes crime scenes

Tempe Police Chief Kenneth McCoy called issues with the Forensic Services Unit ‘problematic’ after an internal investigation.

18 minutes ago

A view of the Barrio Queen in Gilbert, Arizona. The Mexican restaurant chain opened its eight locat...

Barrio Queen opens 8th Valley Mexican restaurant in Surprise

The Valley’s eighth Barrio Queen Mexican restaurant opened Wednesday in Surprise and will offer specials throughout December.

1 hour ago

Mega Millions forms are stacked and waiting on players on Aug. 7, 2023, in Silver Spring, Maryland....

Mega Millions ticket sold at Phoenix grocery store wins $40,000 thanks to Megaplier

A Mega Millions ticket sold at a Phoenix grocery store for Tuesday night’s drawing hit for a $40,000 payout.

2 hours ago

File photo of an Amtrak train. The Arizona Department of Transportation was awarded $500,000 from t...

Kevin Stone

Arizona gets federal funding for Phoenix-Tucson passenger rail planning

The first federal funds have been allocated for reestablishing passenger rail service between Phoenix and Tucson, U.S. Rep. Greg Stanton of Arizona announced.

3 hours ago


KTAR Video

Video: Arizona teacher shortage by the numbers

Jim Sharpe breaks down the Arizona teachers shortage by the numbers and what is needed to retain educators in Wednesday’s Sharper Point commentary.

5 hours ago

Progress on the Moores Gulch bridge north of Phoenix is a milestone in the Interstate 17 Improvemen...

David Veenstra

Traffic shift at bridge north of Phoenix marks milestone in I-17 Improvement Project

Part of a new bridge north of Phoenix recently opened, marking a milestone for the Interstate 17 Improvement Project.

5 hours ago

Sponsored Articles

Follow @KTAR923...

The best ways to honor our heroes on Veterans Day and give back to the community

Veterans Day is fast approaching and there's no better way to support our veterans than to donate to the Military Assistance Mission.


Dierdre Woodruff

Interest rates may have peaked. Should you buy a CD, high-yield savings account, or a fixed annuity?

Interest rates are the highest they’ve been in decades, and it looks like the Fed has paused hikes. This may be the best time to lock in rates for long-term, low-risk financial products like fixed annuities.



Key dates for Arizona sports fans to look forward to this fall

Fall brings new beginnings in different ways for Arizona’s professional sports teams like the Cardinals and Coyotes.

Man looks back on journey with COVID-19 after receiving double-lung transplant in Arizona