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SA’s first Covid-19 lung transplant recipient is excited to spend Easter weekend with newborn daughter

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The 27-year-old was pregnant with her daughter when she contracted the novel coronavirus.

Re-united after 113 days – 27-year-old Mbali Mtiyane, Baby Kuhle, husband Sizwe and mother, Christine photographed ahead of Mbali’s discharge from Netcare Milpark Hospital. Image by Debbie Yazbek.

After a gruelling 113-day battle with Covid-19 which saw her become the first South African with the virus to receive a lung transplant, Mbali Mtiyane celebrated her recovery with a shopping trip this week.

“She was not able to walk for so many months, so this was the first time that she went shopping for a new Easter outfit,” her husband Sizwe told the Saturday Star this week.

After praying for the survival of his newborn daughter and wife, the Winchester Hills man is looking forward to spending some quality time with his family this weekend.

“The whole experience was a very challenging and emotional time, but with God and the support of my family, we managed to pull through,” he said.

The 27-year-old Mtiyane was pregnant with her daughter when she contracted the novel coronavirus.

“We still don’t know where she got it from, because we didn’t go anywhere because my wife was pregnant.”

But, on November 24, Mtiyane was shocked to discover that she had tested positive.

“Her doctors admitted her to Parklane Hospital immediately, but after a week her condition deteriorated and a decision was made for an emergency C-section to be done.”

The couple’s daughter, Kuhlekayise, arrived two months premature and also had to spend time in hospital.

Meanwhile, her mother’s lung capacity continued to worsen and she was transferred to Milpark Hospital where doctors discovered that she had Covid-pneumonia.

Cardiothoracic surgeon Dr Martin Sussman explained that the young mother had to be taken straight from the ambulance into theatre, where she was placed on extra-corporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), which artificially maintains a supply of oxygen to the brain and other vital organs for patients who require either or both respiratory and cardiac support.

“ECMO is an artificial lung and the circuit does the work of the lungs, and that is how we kept Mbali alive,” Sussman said.

During this time, Mtiyane was put in an induced coma for almost two months and was unable to see her newborn daughter.

This procedure was not as successful as doctors had hoped, and a decision was made for her to receive a lung transplant, the first of its kind for the country, and in Africa.

Pulmonologist intensivist at Netcare Milpark Hospital Dr Paul Williams, who together with Sussman led the lung transplant team performing Mtiyane’s surgery, explained that this was a rare procedure for patients with established lung disease, and is only performed after all other treatments for lung failure are unsuccessful.

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 by Debbie Yazbek.

“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.”

After months of medical treatments, the young mother reacted well to the transplant and was finally discharged from hospital.

After months apart, Mtiyane is cherishing the time she is able to spend with her daughter.

Mbali Mtiyane and her husband Sizwe show off their baby daughter Kuhle to Marc van Heerden, general manager of Netcare Milpark Hospital. Image by Debbie Yazbek.

“She doesn’t want to put the baby down. I think she is just trying to catch up on all the time she she has lost.”

Sizwe admits that while mom and baby are in good health, his wife still needs physiotherapy sessions as she spent months in a coma, not moving her body.

But he added that she was looking forward to enjoying the simple things, like quality time with her daughter, shopping and visiting loved ones.

“This weekend we are going to a small family gathering. Mbali needs a change of scenery,” Sizwe said.

The Saturday Star