PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — Patients with serious cases of COVID-19 can end up with lung damage and there is one person from Reading who is recovering from the first lung transplant performed in Pennsylvania. Thursday is the beginning of National Donate Life Month to raise awareness about the gift of life.

Transplants during a pandemic is a whole new field of medicine — one filled with dangers.

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The first COVID-19 patient to have a lung transplant at Penn Medicine is an incredible story of medical intervention and survival.

It is the family photos that helped Fred Rahmanian recover from a life-threatening bout with COVID-19.

“My oxygen rate dropped drastically,” Rahmanian said.

Almost everyone in the family got the virus and recovered, but Fred didn’t. Coronavirus destroyed his lungs, the only way to save his life was a lung transplant. The 54-year-old father of triplets had a lot to live for.

“I want to see my kids’ graduation, I want to see them turn 18, I want to see them go to college,” Rahmanian said. “There’s so many things that we haven’t done yet.”

Remarkably, a donor was quickly matched but Penn Medicine had never done a lung transplant on a COVID-19 patient. There had only been a few in the world.

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“It becomes technically very challenging,” Dr. Christian Bermudez said.

Dr. Bermudez is the director of Thoracic Transplantation at Penn Medicine. He says the operation was tricky because Rahmanian was medically compromised and surgery during a pandemic is filled with risk and extra safety protocols.

“It has been catastrophic for every single medical team in the United States,” Dr. Bermudez said.

But Rahmanian’s historic transplant was a success.

“They essentially granted me a miracle by choosing to do this for me and I know being the first is not always easy,” Rahmanian said.

Now, three months after the transplant, Rahmanian is getting stronger every day through physical therapy.

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Penn Medicine has now done three COVID-19 lung transplants. Doctors say patients have to be monitored closely because it’s unknown how the virus might impact organ rejection or the medications used to prevent that.

Stephanie Stahl