TAMPA, Fla. — Whether he's hugging his 5-year-old son or celebrating a birthday, Vezna Hang has learned to take none of life's moments for granted.
“You know, I’m forever grateful, and just to be able to breathe and talk and, you know, to live life every day, you know, I’m going to cherish it forever," he said.
Hang has a new lease on life after COVID-19 almost took his life.
It happened back in March not long after he and his family moved to Florida. He tested positive, had no symptoms at first, but then, his health rapidly declined.
“One day I took a shower, and lo and behold. I got out, I looked at myself in the mirror, and I was a little blue," Hang remembered.
He went to the hospital.
“The nurse...took my oxygen saturation, and it was at 40%,” he said. “I was pretty much on an emotional roller coaster. It was so surreal. I didn’t know what to think, you know. Being a young guy and pretty much healthy, I didn’t have any underlying conditions.”
As he later learned, both his lungs were scarred and permanently damaged as a result of the virus. The damage was so severe that he needed new lungs.
“To get hit with the news, it hit me like a brick wall, you know,” he said.
But Hang became one of the fortunate 700. As of October, Tampa General Hospital — partnered with USF Health — hit that milestone: 700 lung transplant surgeries, about 100 of which, like Hang’s, happened during the pandemic.
“COVID has impacted our patients in a significant way from a lung perspective,” said Dr. Kapil Patel with the lung transplant program.
It’s why Dr. Patel is using the 700 milestone as not only a chance to celebrate but also a chance to advocate. He says getting the COVID-19 vaccine can help the program slow the demand for more lung transplants.
“To what extent will the lung scar? It’s unclear. But the ones that are needing an evaluation for transplant, both lungs are scarred tremendously where they’ve lost a tremendous capacity of their lung function,” Dr. Patel warned.
Hang, who was not eligible to be vaccinated at the time he contracted COVID-19, is now fully vaccinated.
“Like most young people, I definitely was hesitant, but my experience in the hospital and the knowledge that I’ve obtained from my experience in (the hospital), I definitely would have gotten the vaccine,” he said. “If I could convey a message to anybody, you know, my age or any age, you know, is to protect yourself (by) getting this vaccine.”
He not only has two new lungs in his chest but also a new lease on life in his heart.
“I mean, I owe them my life,” he said of the doctors and nurses who cared for him. “They saved my life and brought me back to my family. You know, I can’t thank them enough.”
He said he’s also eternally grateful to the organ donor who provided the lungs for his transplant. Hang says he’s only been told the donor was a male in his fifties, but he hopes to send a letter of thanks to the donor’s family one day, if he’s allowed.
Learn more about TGH’s lung transplant program here.