Young coronavirus survivor says she couldn’t recognize her body after a double lung transplant

A Chicago woman who became the nation last month first COVID-19 patient to undergo a double lung transplant He said Thursday that he woke up days later, unaware of the surgery and unable to “recognize my body.”

Mayra Ramírez said that before she got sick 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 three miles shortly before getting sick and heading to the hospital.

Virus outbreak transplant
Mayra Ramírez, a COVID-19 survivor due to a double lung transplant, listens to a question about her journey through the pandemic on Thursday, July 30, 2020 during her first press conference at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

Charles Rex Arbogast / AP

“They told me to hurry up (and) change,” he said. “They asked me who would make my medical decisions for me. It was then that I told them that it would be my mother and older sister who lived in North Carolina. I only had a couple of minutes to contact them and let them know what was going on. Before I intubated. “

Ramirez, 28, spoke to the media Thursday alongside Brian Kuhns, 62, of Lake Zurich, Illinois, who followed her as the second US coronavirus patient to undergo a double transplant.

Ramírez underwent a lung transplant June 5 at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. She didn’t wake up until mid-June.

“I looked at myself and I couldn’t recognize my body,” he said. “She didn’t have the cognitive ability to process what was happening. All she knew was that she wanted water.”

Dr. Ankit Bharat, chief of thoracic surgery and chief surgical officer for the Northwestern Medicine Lung Transplant Program, said Ramirez, who was on a respirator, fought for her life for six weeks, with the virus completely destroying her lungs. Doctors would call Nohemi Romero, her mother in North Carolina, to receive updates.

Ramírez, sitting next to her mother during a press conference at the hospital, said her family made the trip to Chicago with the intention of saying goodbye.

“Fortunately, once my mother and my two sisters arrived, the medical team was able to stabilize me,” Ramírez said. “The lung transplant option was explained to them and my mother accepted. And after 48 hours, I received the 10-hour lung transplant.”

Bharat calls Ramírez’s surgery a “milestone” in the care of patients with severe COVID-19.

“Lung transplantation is not for all COVID-19 patients, but it offers some critically ill patients another option for survival,” said Bharat. “Mayra and Brian are living proof of that.”

Virus outbreak transplant
Brian Kuhns of Lake Zurich, Ill., A survivor of COVID-19 due to a double-lung transplant, hears a question about his journey through the pandemic on Thursday July 30, 2020 during his first press conference at the Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago

Charles Rex Arbogast / AP

Thoracic surgeon Dr. Rafael Garza Castillon said Northwestern is now considering performing the procedure on other patients who have cleared the virus and have no other major organ failure.

“We are all learning together and sharing best practices, and now lung transplantation is part of COVID-19 care,” said Bharat.

Ramírez, who is now home, said he feels much better, although he is still working to rebuild his strength and endurance. She said she knows there is a family that cries for their loved one.

“It wasn’t until weeks later that I had the ability to, you know, think to myself that there is a family out there crying for their loved one,” said Ramírez. “I have that person’s lungs and how lucky I was to have received it.”

Kuhns said he thought the virus was a hoax until he contracted it.

“This disease is not a joke,” he said. “It hit me like a lead bump on the head. I was perfectly healthy. This depressed me.”