Timothy Sauve and his partner Julie Garcia pose for a selfie on Toronto’s Centre Island in a Sept. 7, 2018, handout photo. Sauve, a 61-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., was rushed to hospital with a deteriorating condition that eventually required a double-lung transplant —believed to be the first done in Canada on a patient whose lungs were irreparably damaged by COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Timothy Sauve, *MANDATORY CREDIT

Timothy Sauve and his partner Julie Garcia pose for a selfie on Toronto’s Centre Island in a Sept. 7, 2018, handout photo. Sauve, a 61-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., was rushed to hospital with a deteriorating condition that eventually required a double-lung transplant —believed to be the first done in Canada on a patient whose lungs were irreparably damaged by COVID-19. THE CANADIAN PRESS/HO-Timothy Sauve, *MANDATORY CREDIT

Ontario man believed to be 1st Canadian with COVID-destroyed lungs gets transplant

Timothy Sauve, a healthy, physically fit man before he contracted the virus

Timothy Sauve was brushing his teeth one morning in December when he was hit by a dizzy spell that knocked him off his feet.

The 61-year-old from Mississauga, Ont., didn’t expect that to be the first sign of a COVID-19 infection. But within days he had developed a fever, experienced breathlessness in his sleep, and was rushed to hospital with a deteriorating condition that eventually required a double-lung transplant —

believed to be the first done in Canada on a patient whose lungs were irreparably damaged by the virus.

Sauve, a healthy, physically fit man before he contracted the virus, saw the infection wreak havoc on his lungs over his two-month stay in the intensive care units of two different Toronto area hospitals.

While his lungs were scarred beyond repair, the virus didn’t damage any of Sauve’s other organs, making him a candidate for the rare procedure that saved his life.

“Things were pretty bleak,” Sauve said of his pre-transplant condition, fighting back tears during a phone interview from the University Health Network’s Toronto Rehab Bickle Centre.

“They told me my (lungs) weren’t getting better and for me to make arrangements to say goodbye to my loved ones.”

After consulting with his family and doctors, Sauve was transferred from Trillium Health Partners in Mississauga to UHN’s Toronto General Hospital, home to Canada’s largest organ transplant program.

A careful assessment at the Ajmera Transplant Centre determined he was physically strong enough to undergo a transplant in February.

Dr. Marcelo Cypel, the surgical director at the transplant centre who led the team performing the operation, said Sauve was on “very high amounts of oxygen” when he met him, and scans of his lungs showed heavy amounts of scar tissue called pulmonary fibrosis.

While he was only on a ventilator for a short amount of time during his transfer to the Toronto hospital from Mississauga, Sauve did need the advanced lung support therapy called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) — a machine that pumps and oxygenates the blood.

Cypel said Sauve’s lungs had shrunk during his infection, becoming stiff and resistant to air flow.

“Lungs should be very light, like balloons — you can push air in very easily,” Cypel said. “(Sauve’s) were very similar actually to patients with chronic lung disease.”

While the surgery was a success, Cybel said transplants are not expected to become frequently used treatments for severe COVID cases. The procedure has only been done about “40 or 50” times worldwide, he said.

Sauve’s situation was unique in that the virus, aside from the irreversible damage it caused to his lungs, hadn’t left the rest of his body in a weakened state, Cybel explained.

Sauve had also cleared his COVID infection by the time he was assessed for a transplant, which was a main prerequisite before he could undergo surgery. As Sauve put it, “it would be a waste to give someone who wasn’t healthy new lungs.”

Cybel says the rise of variants of concern that are causing severe disease in more younger patients may increase the number of transfer referrals going forward. UHN says its transplant program is currently evaluating three additional COVID patients for candidacy.

Even though only a very “small subset” of people would qualify, “it is a very powerful, life-saving therapy for some specific patients,” Cybel said.

While Sauve is doing well in recovery now, he says the last few months had been a nightmare for his family.

His entire household, including his common-law partner Julie Garcia, her 24-year-old son and her father, 80-year-old Juanito Teng, all tested positive for COVID around the same time Sauve became ill.

Teng died in the ICU shortly after being admitted to hospital, in a room right next to Sauve’s. The family doesn’t know how members became infected or who got the virus first.

Sauve, who had no prior comorbidities that put him at higher risk for infection or severe disease, says he hopes his story can resonate with anyone who thinks COVID-19 isn’t that big a deal.

“People don’t realize what COVID does to people … and sometimes they’re putting their guard down,” he said. “I thought that when I got the disease, I’d get over it.”

Sauve said the immediate aftermath of his surgery is a blur, with pain killers so strong they made him hallucinate — a normal reaction, his doctors told him. He also doesn’t remember much from the day he found out he was getting his new lungs.

“I just remember waiting,” he said. “And the next thing I knew I was waking up from the operation — after the hallucinations wore off — and I realized I wasn’t wearing an oxygen mask.”

Recovery time varies for patients after transplants, so Sauve isn’t sure how long he’ll need to stay at the rehab centre.

But he doesn’t want to rush things.

“I want to leave here on my own two feet,” he said. “I want to go home to my beautiful partner, Julie, but I don’t want to need a walker. I’ll stay here a little longer if I have to — it may take two months, three months, but my goal is to get back home.”

Melissa Couto Zuber, The Canadian Press

Coronavirus

Get local stories you won't find anywhere else right to your inbox.
Sign up here

Just Posted

Oak Bay resident Hugh Thompson died Friday, May 7. (GoFundMe photo)
Oak Bay dad dies mountain biking near Shawnigan Lake

Community rallies around family with online fundraiser

The Regional District of Nanaimo has its sights set on busing to the Cowichan Valley in time for March 2022. (News Bulletin file)
Bus link between Nanaimo and the Cowichan Valley expected by next March

Unallocated transit hours already in Regional District of Nanaimo budget

Cowichan Valley WildSafeBC coordinator Amanda Crowston teaches a Grade 5/6 class at Ecole Cobble Hill last fall. (Submitted)
The bears are back in town and so is WildSafeBC

The bears are back in town so keep an eye out, reminds… Continue reading

North Cowichan has heated exchange over timelines of its official community plan review. (File photo)
North Cowichan’s OCP review divides council

Tight timelines leads to heated debate

Matt Ellison was a star with the Kerry Park Islanders before embarking on a pro career that included stops in the NHL and KHL. (Submitted)
Ex-NHLers to highlight Kerry Park-Peninsula alumni games

Matt Ellison and Kyle Greentree commit to suit up in August

A bullet hole is seen in the windshield of an RCMP vehicle approximately 4 km from Vancouver International Airport after a one person was killed during a shooting outside the international departures terminal at the airport, in Richmond, B.C., Sunday, May 9, 2021. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
Homicide team IDs man in fatal YVR shooting as police grapple with spate of gang violence

Man, 20, charged in separate fatal shooting Burnaby over the weekend

The B.C. legislature went from 85 seats to 87 before the 2017 election, causing a reorganization with curved rows and new desks squeezed in at the back. The next electoral boundary review could see another six seats added. (Black Press files)
B.C. election law could add six seats, remove rural protection

North, Kootenays could lose seats as cities gain more

Cannabis bought in British Columbia (Ashley Wadhwani/Black Press Media)
Is it time to start thinking about greener ways to package cannabis?

Packaging suppliers are still figuring eco-friendly and affordable packaging options that fit the mandates of Cannabis Regulations

The Independent Investigations Office of B.C. is investigating the shooting of an Indigenous woman in the Ucluelet First Nation community of Hitacu. (Black Press Media file photo)
B.C. First Nation wants ‘massive change’ after its 3rd police shooting in less than a year

Nuu-chah-nulth woman recovering from gunshot wounds in weekend incident near Ucluelet

Nurse Gurinder Rai, left, administers the Moderna COVID-19 vaccine to Maria Yule at a Fraser Health drive-thru vaccination site, in Coquitlam, B.C., on Wednesday, May 5, 2021. The site is open for vaccinations 11 hours per day to those who have pre-booked an appointment. THE CANADIAN PRESS/Darryl Dyck
COVID vaccine bookings to open for adults 40+, or 18+ in hotspots, across B.C.

Only people who have registered will get their alert to book

Dr. Victoria Lee, CEO of Fraser Health, hosts an update on efforts to contain B.C.’s COVID-19 transmission in Surrey and the Fraser Valley and protect hospitals in the Lower Mainland, May 6, 2021. (B.C. government video)
B.C.’s COVID-19 infection rate slowing, 20 more people die

Deaths include two people in their 40s, two in their 50s

The Canadian Forces Snowbirds are in the Comox Valley for their annual spring training. Photo by Erin Haluschak
Suspected bird strike on Snowbirds plane during training in Comox

Pilot followed protocols and landed the aircraft on the ground without any problems

Most Read