WASHINGTON (NEXSTAR) – A video from George Washington University Hospital shows how coronavirus can quickly and extensively impair lung function, leading to serious illness and death.

Using VR technology, the imagery shows what the virus did to the lungs of the medical center’s first COVID-19 patient, a man in his late 50s whose only other medical issue was high blood pressure.

The swaths of yellow in the video show the areas in the lungs affected by the coronavirus.

“There is such a stark contrast between the virus-infected abnormal lung and the more healthy, adjacent lung tissue,” said Chief of Thoracic Surgery Dr. Keith Mortman while speaking about the video for a GW hospital podcast. “And it’s such a contrast that you do not need an MD after your name to understand these images. This is something the general public can take a look at and really start to comprehend how severe the amount of damage this is causing the lung tissue. The damage we’re seeing is not isolated to any one part of the lung. This is severe damage to both lungs diffusely.”

Like many other people, the patient’s first symptoms were fever, cough and shortness of breath – but they escalated quickly. He was initially placed on a ventilator at a different hospital, but needed more intensive treatment and was transferred to George Washington University Hospital. Doctors at GW are using an advanced technology called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation to remove the man’s blood, re-oxygenate it and return it to his body.

“For these patients who essentially present in progressive respiratory failure, the damage to the lungs is rapid and widespread (as evidenced in the VR video),” Mortman said in an email to CNN. “Unfortunately, once damaged to this degree, the lungs can take a long time to heal. For approximately 2-4% (depending on which numbers you believe) of patients with Covid-19, the damage is irreversible and they will succumb to the disease.”

For those who recover, some may have permanent lung damage from scarring caused by the virus.

“I want people to see this and understand what this can do,” Mortman told CNN. “People need to take this seriously.”

With more than 780,000 positive coronavirus cases and 37,000 deaths worldwide as of Monday evening, Dr. Mortman warns that the pandemic is a threat to young and old alike.

“It is affecting every age group and every country, all 50 states in the U.S., so this is nationwide, a global, a community problem,” he said.