Oklahoma Firefighter and Father-of-Four Survives COVID-19 and Receives Lifesaving Lung Transplant at Dignity Health St. Joseph’s in Phoenix

April is National Donte Life Month

Phoenix, Arizona, UNITED STATES

PHOENIX, April 09, 2021 (GLOBE NEWSWIRE) -- A 44-year-old firefighter and father-of-four from Oklahoma recently received a lifesaving double lung transplant at Norton Thoracic Institute at Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix after having survived COVID-19. Now, Captain Randy Blake is making a remarkable recovery following four months of hospitalization.


Blake was first admitted to the hospital in his hometown of Stillwater, Okla. after contracting COVID-19 in October 2020. After spending nearly a week in the ICU, he was transferred to Oklahoma Heart Institute in Tulsa. Prior to his COVID-19 diagnosis, the Stillwater Fire Department Captain had no preexisting conditions, was in excellent physical shape and made it a point to take good care of himself for sake of his job and his family.

While at the Oklahoma Heart Institute, Blake’s condition continued to rollercoaster. Eventually, he would be placed on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) for more than a month. He also had a tracheotomy and underwent several procedures to treat blood clots that had formed as a result of the infection.


Essentially an artificial lung that oxygenates the blood, ECMO can be used to help support patients while their lungs recover. Although it is not always a treatment option, ECMO can help some patients recover from severe pneumonia caused by COVID-19. Although Blake was able to improve and come off of ECMO in December, COVID-19 caused severe and irreversible lung injury, and he required a lung transplant to survive.


“One day, one of my physicians, Dr. Ghuloom at Oklahoma Heart said he thought I’d be a good candidate for a double lung transplant and that he’d call someone he knew in Arizona,” recalls Blake. “It felt like a very short time later, Dr. Ghuloom came back and said ‘they want to evaluate you for transplant,’ and then before I knew it, I was on a medical transport plane to St. Joseph’s Norton Thoracic Institute in Phoenix. The team at St. Joseph’s worked so quickly, so diligently and with such compassion that not long after I arrived at St. Joseph’s in January, I had a new pair of donor lungs.”


When Blake’s wife, Jenn, learned the doctors had called a lung transplant program in Arizona, she started researching online. “I remember when Dr. Ghuloom told us they wanted to evaluate Randy for transplant, I asked desperately, ‘What program?!’ He looked in his notes and said that it was St. Joseph’s Norton Thoracic Institute. I was immediately relieved and overjoyed. We’d been blessed again.

St. Joseph’s Norton Thoracic Institute was the one place I’d spent all night reading about after learning it has one of the leading lung transplant programs in the country.”


Lung transplants are among the most complicated surgical procedures, and these patients require lifelong care. “Patients who have had COVID-19 and require lung transplantation present additional challenges. They often experience longer hospitalizations and have more medical interventions, in addition to severe lung damage,” explains Shair Ahmed, MD, Blake’s primary lung transplant surgeon at St. Joseph’s Norton Thoracic Institute. “Thankfully, Randy’s surgery went well given his critical situation.”


Being hospitalized for nearly four months, Blake lost 55 pounds of muscle and spent two weeks in St. Joseph’s Barrow Neurological Institute Neuro-Rehabilitation Center to retrain his muscles and relearn what most would consider basic tasks.


“Randy is doing wonderfully, and we couldn’t be happier that he’s ready to go home. He is no longer on oxygen and is working hard in physical therapy, occupational therapy and speech therapy,” says Sofya Tokman, MD, Blake’s pulmonologist at St. Joseph’s Norton Thoracic Institute. “In fact, just a few days before his discharge, I saw him walking and lifting weights.”


A humble first responder who was on the frontlines of the 2015 Homecoming Parade Tragedy in Okla., Blake says he would never seek attention for himself, but adds that he hopes his story will inspire other individuals and families who are facing similar situations.


“I am beyond grateful to St. Joseph’s and Norton, my family, God, my organ donor and their family, and everyone I’ve come in contact with throughout this journey. I almost lost my life so many times, and now, I’m just working really hard in rehab and can’t wait to get out of the hospital, and then back to my family and my life,” says Blake.


St. Joseph’s Norton Thoracic Institute was the third lung transplant program in the country to perform a lung transplant as a result of lung damage from COVID-19, and Blake’s case is Norton’s fourth post-COVID-19 lung transplant.



Oklahoma Fire Captain Randy Blake's lung transplant surgery at Dignity Health St. Joseph's Norton Thoracic Institute in Phoenix after suffering irreversible lung damage from COVID-19. Oklahoma Fire Captain Randy Blake with lung transplant Norton Thoracic Institute pulmonologist, Sofya Tokman, MD, during a therapy session in the Barrow Neuro Rehabilitation unit at Dignity Health St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix. Blake survived COVID-19 but suffered irreversible lung damage and needed a lifesaving lung transplant.

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