The team of surgeons and medical staff pose for a photo before Seventh-day Adventist Surgeon Dr. Manuel Wong (third from left) leads the first double lung transplant in a post-CoVID-19 patient at the Christus Muguerza High Specialty Hospital in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico, on Aug. 31, 2020. The bilateral lung transplant became the first of its kind in Mexico and Latin America, and the seventh performed in the world. [Photo: Courtesy of Christus Muguerza Hospital de Alta Especialidad]

October 1, 2020 | Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico | Laura Marrero and Libna Stevens, Inter-American Division News

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.

Dr. Manuel Wong, a graduate of Montemorelos University in North Mexico, and chief of surgery of the Pulmonary Transplant Program at the Christus Muguerza Hospital de Alta Especialidad (Christus Muguerza High Specialty Hospital) in Monterrey, Mexico, led the 21-member surgical team on Aug. 31, 2020.

Significance of the surgery

The surgery was so significant in Mexico that the Health Secretary of the State of Nuevo Leon, Manuel de la O Cavazos, congratulated Dr. Wong and two other surgeons of the Christus Muguerza team during a televised press conference held on Sep. 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.

Health Secretary of the State of Nuevo Leon Dr. Manuel de la O Cavazos (second from left) leads a special press conference from the State Palace on Sep. 16, 2020, with Christus Muguerza High Specialty Hospital surgeons Dr. Uriel Chavarria Martinez (left) medical coordinator; Dr. Horacio Garza Ghio, general medical director, and Dr. Manuel Wong(right), chief of surgery and coordinator of the pulmonary transplant program.[Photo: Screenshot of Facebook/Noticias 28 press conference]

“We have all lived many sad experiences because of this disease (COVID-19), and I am very happy to be part of preventing one more patient dying from it. It’s very satisfying to be able to return him home so he can enjoy his family,” said Dr. Wong. It’s a bittersweet feeling to be part of this transplant surgery, he said.

According to statistics this week, there have been 3,594 persons who have died from COVID-19 and 65,067 confirmed cases in the State of Nuevo Leon. There are 17,658 confirmed cases 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,” said Dr. Wong. At the end of June, in Mexico, as in other parts of the world more and more patients began to recover using an artificial ventilator, and many could not be taken off it because instead of improving, many 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 of COVID-19.

Dr. Manuel Wong (right), chief of surgery in charge of the pulmonary transplant program at Christus Muguerza High Specialty Hospital, leads the seven-hour surgery with a team of 21 specialists and medical staff. [Photo: Courtesy of Christus Muguerza Hospital de Alta Especialidad]

Selection process

From the patients that presented a terminal pulmonary damage, explained Dr. Wong, only a subgroup of these fell under 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 will be going home within the next couple of days,” said Dr. Wong.

Of the team of specialists and surgeons, Dr. Wong said “We have been doing what we know how to do in extraordinary conditions, hand in hand with what science was 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 medical team

Many situations come up when working and leading a team, said Dr. Wong. “But for those of us who have a different worldview in which there is a superior being to whom we deliver our intentions and who determines how his children function, the plans and proposals that as humans we do, it gives an assurance that it is not one who is going to do something but rather has the blessing of being directed and tutored. It is not oneself but who allows us to work and collaborate,” he said while  describing the challenges of leading a team in such an important intervention.

Dr. Manual Wong graduated from medical school in Adventist-operated Montemorelos University, Nuevo Leon, Mexico. He later obtained a specialty in thoracic surgery as well as a doctorate in surgery and morphological sciences in Spain. [Photo: Courtesy of Christus Muguerza Hospital de Alta Especialidad]

“This is something that permeates the entire Christus Muguerza team,” he said. “We know that it is not something that we do but that we try to do with great attachment to science, to the patient, a very rigorous work, but God is the one who has the last word,” he added.

The team of specialists clarify that this procedure was not a treatment for Covid-19, but done because the patient’s lungs had lost functionality  due to the severity of the disease.

The surgery comes following another significant surgery in 2017 when Dr. Wong was the surgeon leader for another first in 2017, the first sequential bilateral lung transplant, which was performed at the same medical institution.

Dr. 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 Adventist Church organization for many years in the Central American Adventist University in Costa Rica.

Surgical staff works together during the transplant surgery on Aug. 31, 2020. [Photo: Courtesy of Christus Muguerza Hospital de Alta Especialidad]

He arrived at Montemorelos University in 1996 where he began his studies in the School of Medicine. Upon graduating in 2003, he worked several years in the urgent care department of La Carlota Adventist Hospital in Montemorelos and taught anatomy in the school of medicine on campus.

After that, Dr. Wong, together with his family, transferred to Spain where he completed a specialty in Thoracic surgery with training in pulmonary transplants at Valle de Hebron University Hospital.  Dr. Wong also completed a doctorate in surgery and morphological sciences at Barcelona University.

Dr. Wong, 42, is married to Dr. Mirta Bobadilla, who specializes in physical therapy and rehabilitation. Both are active Seventh-day Adventists and attend church in Monterrey,  with their three children.

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