Video Reveals Extensive Lung Damage in US Coronavirus Patient

A George Washington University Hospital doctor found a unique way to provide a look at the damage COVID-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus, can leave on a patient. Dr. Keith Mortman, the hospital's chief of thoracic surgery, shared a 3D video showing the inside of a patient's lungs. Before contracting the virus, the 59-year-old man was generally healthy, aside from high blood pressure.

Mortman told CNN the patient's lungs are not working properly. He has required a ventilator to help him breathe, and it is still not enough, even with the machine on its highest setting. The man also needs a different machine to circulate his blood and bring oxygen to it.

"This is not a 70, 80-year-old immunosuppressed, diabetic patient," Mortman explained. "Other than high blood pressure, he has no other significant medical issues. This is a guy who's minding his own business and gets it ... If we were to repeat the 360VR images now, that is one week later, there is a chance that the infection and inflammatory process could be worse."

The brief video shows areas marked in yellow, which indicate inflamed and infected parts of the patient's lungs. The scan shows the damage is not localized and covers parts of both lungs. It shows how COVID-19 can quickly cripple the lungs, which will start sealing areas with the virus off. Healthy lungs would not show any yellow areas in a scan. The patient is now in the intensive care unit at George Washington University Hospital in Washington, D.C.

"For these patients who essentially present in progressive respiratory failure, the damage to the lungs is rapid and widespread (as evidenced in the VR video)," Mortman wrote. "Unfortunately, once damaged to this degree, the lungs can take a long time to heal. For approximately 2-4% (depending on which numbers you believe) of patients with Covid-19, the damage is irreversible and they will succumb to the disease."

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness. First it will get into mucus membranes before the lungs, and the body will try to control it with inflammation.

Unfortunately, that makes it difficult for lungs to ixygenate the blood and remove carbon dioxide. This will force a patient to gaps in an effort to get more oxygen into the body. Mortman said some patients could suffer irreversable damage, which is why it is important to follow social distancing advice and self-isolation.

"I want people to see this and understand what this can do," Mortman told CNN. "People need to take this seriously."

The CT imagery used to create the video is traditionally used for cancer screenings and to help plan surgeries. Mortman said his staff is now using it to fight COVID-19 because eso many are "walking in the dark with this."

"We want to understand it as best we can," he told CNN. "This was our first patient, but I am sure he is the first of what will likely become many in the coming weeks."


The number of coronavirus cases passed 80,000 on Thursday, reports Johns Hopkins University. More than 1,000 deaths have been reported, including 281 deaths in New York City alone.

Photo credit: Misha Friedman/Getty Images