A Chicago woman who last month became the first COVID-19 patient to undergo a double lung transplant said she woke up days later, unaware of 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 underwent surgery at North Memorial Hospital in Chicago on June 5 and did not wake up until weeks later.
“I looked at myself and couldn’t recognize my body,” he told reporters. “I didn’t have the cognitive ability to process what was going on. All I knew was that I wanted water.
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Mayra Ramirez, a survivor of COVID-19 due to a two-lung transplant, spoke about her journey through the pandemic during her first press conference at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago on Thursday
Before contracting coronavirus, Ramirez, who has an autoimmune disease, said he was otherwise independent and relatively healthy.
Ramirez said he could not recognize his relatives in the pictures the hospital nurses had put around him.
“I was actually upset because I thought it was a different family,” he added.
Ramirez, who has an autoimmune disease, had intubated it shortly after he fell ill with coronavirus in April.
He had gone for a three-mile walk just before he got sick and was on his way to the hospital.
“I was told to hurry (and) to change,” he said. “They asked me who would make my medical decisions for me. That’s when I told them it would be my mother and older sister living in North Carolina.
“I only had a couple of minutes to contact them to let them know what was going on before they intuited me.”
Ramirez, who moved to Chicago from North Carolina to become a paralegal in 2014, says he is now slowly regaining his strength
Ramirez’s family launched a GoFundMe campaign to raise money for his medical expenses
Dr. Ankit Bharat, head of thoracic surgery and surgical director of the Northwestern Lung Transplant Program of Medicine, said Ramirez, who was on a ventilator, fought for six weeks with the virus completely destroying his lungs.
Doctors would call Nohemi Romero, her mother in North Carolina, with updates.
Ramirez, 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.
“Luckily, once they arrived, my mother and my two sisters, the medical team was able to stabilize me,” Ramirez said.
“I was told about the lung transplant option and my mother accepted. Then, in 48 hours, I received the ten-hour lung transplant.
Bharat has called Ramirez’s surgery a “milestone” in caring for patients with severe COVID-19.
Brian Kuhns (pictured left Thursday) 62, of Lake Zurich, Illinois, followed Ramirez as the second American coronavirus patient to undergo the procedure
“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.”
Ramirez said he is slowly regaining his strength, but says the ordeal has affected him physically and mentally.
“It’s hard to deal with mentally,” he said. “The whole time I was on the web [ventilator] I had a lot of nightmares and it’s hard to distinguish reality from those nightmares sometimes. ‘
Thoracic surgeon Dr. Rafael Garza Castillon said the Northwest is studying performing the procedure with other patients who have removed the virus and have no other major organ failure.
“We are all learning together and sharing good practices, and now lung transplantation is part of COVID-19 care,” Bharat said.
Ramirez, who is now at home, said he feels much better, although he is still working to rebuild his strength and endurance. He said he knows there is a family that misses his loved one.
“It wasn’t until a few weeks later that I had the ability, you know, to think to myself that there is a family that is hurting their loved one,” Ramirez said.
“I have this person’s lungs and the luck I’ve had.”
Kuhns said he thought the virus was a hoax until he contracted it.
“This disease is no joke,” he said. “It hit me like a stronger lead in the head. I was perfectly healthy. That hardened me.”