A Chicago woman who last month became the country’s first COVID-19 patient to undergo a double lung transplant said she woke up days later, unaware about the surgery and unable to ‘recognize my body.’
Mayra Ramirez, 28, spoke to the media on Thursday alongside Brian Kuhns, 62, of Lake Zurich, Illinois, who followed her as the second U.S. coronavirus patient to undergo the procedure.
Ramirez went into surgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago on June 5 and didn’t wake up until weeks later.
‘I looked at myself and couldn’t recognize my body,’ she told reporters. ‘I didn’t have the cognitive ability to process what was going on. All I knew was that I wanted water.’
Mayra Ramirez, a COVID-19 survivor due to a double-lung transplant, spoke about her journey through the pandemic during her first news conference at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago on Thursday
Before contracting coronavirus, Ramirez, who has an autoimmune condition, said she was otherwise independent and relatively healthy
Ramirez said she couldn’t recognize her family members in pictures that the hospital nurses had place around her room.
‘I was actually upset because I thought it was a different family,’ she added.
Ramirez, who has an autoimmune condition, had been intubated shortly after she became ill with coronavirus in April.
She had gone on a three-mile run shortly before becoming ill and heading for the hospital.
‘I was told to hurry up (and) change,’ she said. ‘I was asked who would be making my medical decisions for me. That’s when I told them it would be my mother and eldest sister who all live in North Carolina.
‘I only had a couple minutes to contact them to let them know what was going on before I was intubated.’
Ramirez, who moved to Chicago from North Carolina to become a paralegal in 2014, says she is now slowly regaining her strength
Ramirez’s family launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for her medical expenses
Dr Ankit Bharat, chief of thoracic surgery and surgical director of the Northwestern Medicine Lung Transplant Program, said Ramirez, who was on a ventilator, fought for her life for six weeks, with the virus completely destroying her lungs.
Doctors would call Nohemi Romero, her mother in North Carolina, with updates.
Ramirez, sitting next to her mother during a news conference at the hospital, said her family made the trip to Chicago with the intention of saying goodbye.
‘Luckily, once they arrived, my mother and my two sisters, the medical team was able to stabilize me,’ Ramirez said.
‘They were explained the option of lung transplantation and my mother agreed to it. And then within 48 hours, I received the 10-hour lung transplant.’
Bharat is calling Ramirez’s surgery a ‘milestone’ in care for patients with severe COVID-19.
Brian Kuhns (pictured left on Thursday) 62, of Lake Zurich, Illinois, followed Ramirez as the second U.S. coronavirus patient to undergo the procedure
‘Lung transplant isn’t for every patient with COVID-19, but it does offer some of the critically ill patients another option for survival,’ Bharat said. ‘Mayra and Brian are living proof of that.’
Ramirez said she is slowly regaining her strength, but says the ordeal has taken a physical and mental toll.
‘It’s hard to deal with mentally,’ she said. ‘The entire time I was on the [ventilator] I had a lot of nightmares and it’s hard to distinguish reality versus those nightmares sometimes. ‘
Thoracic surgeon Dr Rafael Garza Castillon said Northwestern is now considering performing the procedure on other patients who have eliminated the virus and have no other significant organ failure.
‘We are all learning together and sharing best practices, and now lung transplant is part of COVID-19 care,’ Bharat said.
Ramirez who is now at home, said she’s feeling much better, though she’s still working to rebuild her strength and endurance. She said she knows there’s a family grieving their loved one.
‘It wasn’t until weeks later that I had the ability to, you know, think to myself there’s a family out there that’s grieving their loved one,’ Ramirez said.
‘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 slammer on my head. I was perfectly healthy. This thing took me down hard.’