A Chicago woman who last month became the country’s first COVID-19 patient to undergo a double lung transplant said Thursday she woke up days later, ignoring surgery and unable to “recognize my body”.
Mayra Ramirez said that before she fell ill, she was an independent and active person who moved from North Carolina to Chicago in 2014 to work as a paralegal. She said she had an autoimmune disease, but was otherwise healthy. She had run a three-mile run shortly before she fell ill and headed for the hospital.
“I was told to hurry (and) change,” she says. “I was asked who would make my medical decisions for me. That’s when I told them it would be my mom and my older sister who would all be living in North Carolina. I only had a few minutes to contact them to let them know what was going on before I was intubated.
Ramirez, 28, spoke to media on Thursday alongside Brian Kuhns, 62, of Lake Zurich, Ill., Who followed her as the second US patient with coronavirus to undergo a double graft.
Ramirez underwent a lung transplant on June 5 at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. She didn’t wake up until mid-June.
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“I looked at myself and couldn’t recognize my body,” she said. “I didn’t have the cognitive ability to process what was going on. All I knew was that I wanted the water.
Dr Ankit Bharat, chief of thoracic surgery and surgical director of the Northwestern Medicine Lung Transplant Program, said Ramirez, who was on a ventilator, had fought for his life for six weeks, with the virus completely destroying his lungs. Doctors would call Nohemi Romero, his mother in North Carolina, with updates.
Ramirez, sitting next to her mother at a hospital press conference, said her family made the trip to Chicago with the intention of saying goodbye.
“Fortunately, once they arrived, my mother and my two sisters, the medical team were able to stabilize me,” Ramirez said. “They were told about the option of a lung transplant and my mother accepted it. And then within 48 hours, I received the 10 hour lung transplant.
Bharat calls Ramirez’s surgery a “milestone” in the care of patients with severe COVID-19.
“Lung transplantation is not for all patients with COVID-19, but it offers some of the critically ill patients another option for survival,” Bharat said. “Mayra and Brian are living proof of that. ”
Thoracic surgeon Dr Rafael Garza Castillon said Northwestern now plans to perform the procedure on other patients who have cleared the virus and have no other significant organ failure.
“We are all learning together and sharing best practices, and now lung transplantation is part of COVID-19 care,” Bharat said.
Ramirez, who is now at home, said she was feeling a lot better, although she was still working to rebuild her strength and stamina. She said she knew a family was mourning their loved one.
“It wasn’t until weeks later that I had the ability to, you know, tell me that there is a family out there who are grieving their loved one,” Ramirez said. “I have this person’s lungs and how lucky I was to have received them. ”
Kuhns said he thought the virus was a hoax until he contracted it.
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“This disease is no joke,” he said. “It hit me like a lead on the head. I was in perfect health. This thing made me fall hard.