COVID-19 survivors in Illinois who were first to get double-lung transplants in U.S. speak out

Mayra Ramirez, 28, of Chicago, received the first double-lung transplant at Northwestern Memorial Hospital on June 5, 2020.

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    CHICAGO (WGN) -- A man and woman from Illinois are the first known COVID-19 survivors in the United States to receive double-lung transplants.

Mayra Ramirez, 28, of Chicago, received the first double-lung transplant at Northwestern Memorial Hospital on June 5, and Brian Kuhns, 62, of Lake Zurich, received the second on July 5.

According to a hospital release, both Ramirez and Kuhns spent weeks in the COVID Intensive Care Unit on a ventilator and extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), a life support machine that does the work of the heart and lungs.

“Mayra and Brian wouldn’t be alive today without the double-lung transplants. COVID-19 completely destroyed their lungs and they were critically ill going into the transplant procedure making it a daunting undertaking,” says Ankit Bharat, MD, chief of thoracic surgery and surgical director of the Northwestern Medicine Lung Transplant Program who performed the transplants.

Ramirez said she contacted her doctor in April when she started experiencing symptoms of fatigue, chronic spasms, diarrhea, loss of taste and smell and slight fever. Other than a diagnosis of neuromyelitis optica (NMO), an autoimmune disease that affects the spinal cord and nerves of the eyes, Ramirez was healthy and took extra precautions.

She was admitted to Northwestern and placed on a ventilator for six weeks before undergoing the surgery, making Ramirez the first known patient in the U.S. to receive a double-lung transplant after surviving the virus.

Kuhns first experienced COVID-19 symptoms in March. He began experiencing symptoms of headaches, stomach pains and a fluctuating temperature. When he developed a cough, Kuhns went to a local emergency department. That was the last time his wife, Nancy, and their two daughters would see him for nearly four months.

Both patients are now breathing on their own without supplemental oxygen and continue to make progress, showing lung transplantation is a life-saving option for some COVID-19 patients with severe lung damage.


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