One of the most surprising and miraculous COVID-19 recovery stories centers around a 24-year-old man named Colby Vondenstein from Texas. He didn’t have any pre-existing conditions at the time, but when he contracted the coronavirus, it took a devastating toll on his body, making him one of the first people to receive a double kidney and lung transplant due to the pandemic.
After a brutal recovery, he’s taking his first step toward getting back to the life he remembers.
The Worst Christmas Present
Vondenstein, a father of three, was looking forward to spending the holidays with his extended family. However, shortly after the festivities, nearly everyone tested positive for COVID-19. He got his test results on December 28th.
Everyone in the family recovered from their illness, but Colby wasn’t so lucky. His health quickly deteriorated, and an ambulance took him to San Jacinto Methodist Hospital on Jan. 5th.
He ended up on a ventilator in the hospital’s COVID ward, but soon his lungs collapsed, and his kidneys failed. Within just a few days, he was taken to Methodist Hospital in the Texas Medical Center on Jan. 11th. The doctors told him he needed a double lung and kidney transplant to survive.
His family says that he was initially denied a transplant because he was so physically weak, but doctors made his case again just a few days later and Vondenstein finally got approved.
After weeks of waiting, Tori Vondenstein, Colby’s wife, said the doctors told her he only had a few days to live – until a miracle happened. The doctors found a perfect match for both of his kidneys and lungs, a surprise the family calls a miracle.
Nearly a month later, Vondenstein was able to take his first steps with the doctor at his side. He is now out of the COVID-19 ward and in intermediate care.
His wife was beyond grateful for everything the staff did for their family. “There are so many nurses and physical therapists,” said Tori Vondenstein. “Houston Methodist has been truly amazing. Amazing. They saved his life.”
She also says watching her husband try to move for weeks via Zoom was “absolute torture”.
“I want to meet them and talk to them and tell them thank you,” Tori Vondenstein added in regards to the nurses on staff.
The family is now sharing his story to urge other young people to take the virus seriously, even though the end of the pandemic may be in sight.
“A lot of younger people blow it off and I hope that his story maybe sheds a little bit of light on how COVID can affect even the younger crowd,” Vondenstein said.
The doctors are hoping Colby can go home in about two weeks, but he still needs to learn how to swallow, so he can eat on his own. He is also still learning how to walk again, one step at a time.
Local reporter Melissa Correa tweeted out, “Colby and his family got sick around Christmas. Everyone but the 24YO recovered. He has no underlying symptoms. He’s the 1st @MethodistHosp COVID patient to get a double lung & kidney transplant. Today, he walked for the 1st time in 3 months.”
The Road to Recovery
This isn’t the first time someone has needed a double lung and kidney transplant due to COVID-19. A similar case was documented in Palo Alto, CA late last year. John Shannon suffered a debilitating immune response after he was infected with the virus.
“If you would have looked at him the first day I saw him, you would not have believed he was alive,” his son Patrick said.
The doctors had to wait for him to show enough strength to move his head before going forward with the double transplant procedure.
“And we were thrilled. I was thrilled to get a call when he was able to lift his head off the bed and interact with the medical team that was taking care of him and sit up a little bit. And we said alright, let’s bring him down,” Dr. MacArthur remembers.
Once he got approved for a transplant, the doctors got to see the full extent of the damage the virus had caused. “Obviously this is the first COVID-destroyed lungs I’ve transplanted. It’s pretty destructive. It really, really just disintegrated his lungs,” Dr. Woo said at the time of the procedure.
After a lengthy recovery, John is now up and walking once again.
These stories remind us just how devastating the virus can be, regardless of the person’s age. A few organs later, both men are on their way to recovery.