A medical team led by a Seventh-day Adventist surgeon recently performed the first successful simultaneous bilateral lung transplant in a post-COVID-19 patient in Monterrey, Mexico. The seven-hour surgery became the first of its kind in Latin America and the seventh performed in the world.
Manuel Wong, a graduate of Montemorelos University in Mexico and chief of surgery of the Pulmonary Transplant Program at the Christus Muguerza High Specialty Hospital in Monterrey, Mexico, led the 21-member surgical team on August 31, 2020.
The surgery was so significant in Mexico that the Health Secretary of the state of Nuevo Leon, Manuel de la O Cavazos, congratulated Wong and two other surgeons of the Christus Muguerza team during a televised press conference held on September 16, 2020, from the State Palace. The hospital in Monterrey is the only medical institution to carry the highly specialized pulmonary transplant program in the country.
“We have all gone through painful experiences because of this disease [COVID-19], and I am pleased to be part of preventing one more patient from dying. It's very satisfying to be able to return him home so he can enjoy his family,” Wong said. But it’s a bittersweet feeling to be part of this transplant surgery, he said.
According to statistics released in early October, in the state of Nuevo León, 3,594 persons had died from COVID-19, and confirmed cases topped 65,000. At least 17,650 cases had been confirmed in the city of Monterrey alone.
“COVID-19 is not something new for us now. We have been growing with the disease and seeing its different stages,” Wong said. Since the end of June, in Mexico, as in other parts of the world, more and more patients were put on a ventilator. Many could not be taken off it because, instead of improving, they deteriorated, he said.
“This means that we have to follow up on solutions to the health problems in patients who are now dealing with some of those complications related to COVID-19.”
Out of the patients who presented terminal pulmonary damage, Wong explained, only a subgroup of these met the criteria for a transplant, and that was the case of this 55-year-old patient. “The patient is now recovering well, eating, walking, finishing his physical rehabilitation at the hospital, and is expected to go home within the next few days,” Wong said.
Of the team of specialists and surgeons, Wong explained, “We have been doing what we know how to do in extraordinary conditions, hand in hand with what science is publishing and the transplant world.” As a transplant surgeon, he said, “it is challenging to push the boundaries of what is known. One has to know that there will be a lot of resistance.”
Collaboration With His Team
Many situations come up when working with and leading a team, according to Wong. “But for those of us who believe in Someone to whom we give our plans and guides our actions, we understand we get things done but let ourselves be led. We are allowed to contribute,” Wong said. “It is something that permeates the entire Christus Muguerza team. We follow science and work hard, but God has the last word,” he added.
The team of specialists explained that the surgery was not a treatment for COVID-19 but that it was carried out because the patient’s lungs had stopped working due to the severity of the disease. The surgery comes after another significant surgery Wong led for another first in 2017 — the first sequential bilateral lung transplant, performed at the same health-care institution.
Wong’s Adventist Roots
Originally from Panama, Manuel Wong grew up in Costa Rica, surrounded by a Christian and missionary environment, since his parents worked for the Seventh-day Adventist Church organization for many years in the Central American Adventist University in Costa Rica.
Wong arrived at Montemorelos University in 1996 and graduated from the School of Medicine in 2003. He worked several years in the urgent care department of La Carlota Adventist Hospital in Montemorelos and taught anatomy on campus.
Then Wong and his family transferred to Spain, where he completed a specialty in thoracic surgery, with training in pulmonary transplants, at Valle de Hebron University Hospital. Wong also completed a doctorate in surgery and morphological sciences at Barcelona University.
Wong, 42, is married to Mirta Bobadilla, who specializes in physical therapy and rehabilitation. They attend a Seventh-day Adventist church in Monterrey with their three children.