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UF Health provides Marine with double lung transplant

Robert Domen and his wife Debbie Domen (left) share a moment with their family after a military presentation of the flag.
Robert Domen and his wife Debbie Domen (left) share a moment with their family after a military presentation of the flag.

Robert Domen has been at UF Health since June 30th, but now, he is finally ready to go home.

After contracting COVID-19, Domen, an active-duty marine, needed intensive care because of the extensive damage done to his lungs. Through the efforts of health care workers, the perseverance of Domen and the support of his family, Domen was able to become one of nearly 30 people to receive a double lung transplant at UF Health since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I look forward to the next steps,” Domen said. “Thank you to all the health care professionals out there. Every single one of them played a major piece in my recovery, and thank them all, but I feel strong. I’m ready to go.”

When Domen arrived at UF Health in June, his lungs had incurred so much damage from COVID-19 that he needed to be placed on what is known as extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). This process involves an artificial lung that is outside of the body being connected to the heart to regulate blood oxygen levels and blood carbon dioxide levels.

While lung transplants have been successfully executed for decades, UF Health Lung Transplant ICU Medical Director Abbas Shahmohammadi said they decided to open the opportunity up to COVID-19 patients who had severe lung disease.

“We started, at the beginning of the pandemic, looking at patients that we can help through this process and give them a second chance at life that they would otherwise not have because of the end-stage lung disease from COVID,” Shahmohammadi said.

Because of the toll COVID-19 had taken on his body, Domen had to work hard with many health care professionals to be strong enough for the transplant to take place, but on Sept. 27, he was finally able to receive a new pair of lungs.

Transplant Surgeon Mindaugus Rackauskas said without the work of a large team of people, stories like Domen’s wouldn’t be possible.

“It takes enormous hours for all team members to succeed,” Rackauskas said. “ As we see, today is a great example of how a multidisciplinary approach works, and we see happy people here.”

Domen said it was hard work, but the spirit of the marines kept him going.

“Number one: marines don’t quit,” Domen said.

“That tenacity, that will to live, is second to none,” he said. “ It’s absolutely amazing. I wasn’t going to let them down.”

Domen was serenaded by applause from everyone around him —marines, church members, family and health care professionals— as he walked out the front doors of UF Health for the first time since June.

Sydney is a reporter for WUFT News who can be reached by calling 352-392-6397 or emailing news@wuft.org.