Fresno father dies after needing lung transplant to recover from COVID-19

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- UPDATE: We have sadly been informed of the passing of David Leon, who needed an organ donation to recover from COVID-19.

The original story follows below.

A Fresno father desperately needs an organ donation to recover from COVID-19, but the coronavirus is complicating the process.

David Leon has spent more than six weeks fighting the coronavirus. The 61-year-old seemed to be in good health and had no known underlying conditions, according to his family.

But the virus has ravaged his body, especially his lungs.

"They don't know how much of his lungs are scarred but they're saying the virus did a lot of damage to his lungs," said his daughter, Paloma Becker, via FaceTime from her home in San Antonio, Texas.

Her father is in the ICU at Community Regional Medical Center and hooked up to a ventilator.

His family hoped he could get on the hospital's ECMO, the extra corporeal membrane oxygenation, only offered through UCSF.

But by the time he transferred from St. Agnes to CRMC, his condition was too critical for ECMO treatment.

Doctors told his family he'd need a lung transplant before they even try it.

"He needs to be accepted by UCSF or Stanford or any of the local transplant centers in order for them to possibly put him on ECMO, which might help him because the ventilator itself is causing damage to his lungs," Becker said.

Leon has raised Paloma and five other kids. He's helped his community with his tax and immigration services businesses and by leading toy drives.

But the chances of getting a lung transplant are never high and the coronavirus that's scarred his lungs could also block his path to a transplant.

"We've seen a lot of patients who were potential organ donors who have come back positive for coronavirus and unfortunately at this point we can't pursue them as potential organ donors," said John Lilley, a vice president with Donor Network West.

Lilley says more than 900 people in the Fresno area are waiting for organ transplants.
The coronavirus could be creating a longer list since it often damages the lungs, the liver, and the kidneys.

Lilley says doctors have performed surgeries giving healthy organs to COVID-19 patients, but not a lot and they're not sure about the outcomes.

"I think we're all trying to figure out what every day looks like in this new culture," he said.

You can sign up to be an organ donor here.

But unlike with kidneys, donor networks can't create a "donor chain" where donations go indirectly to a recipient. They need a direct donation, usually from someone who has recently passed away.

Leon's family is still holding onto hope, but without a lung transplant, his doctors at CRMC gave the family a 10% chance his lungs will heal on their own and he'll recover.

A a GoFundMe page has been set up to help cover the family's expenses.
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