Back To Life: COVID Lung Transplant Survivor Tells Her Story : Shots


Mayra Ramirez acquired a double lung transplant after COVID-19 prompted irreversible harm to her lungs.

Northwestern Drugs


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Northwestern Drugs

Mayra Ramirez acquired a double lung transplant after COVID-19 prompted irreversible harm to her lungs.

Northwestern Drugs

Mayra Ramirez remembers the nightmares.

Throughout six weeks on life assist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago, Ramirez mentioned, she had terrifying nightmares that she could not distinguish from actuality.

“Most of them contain me drowning,” she mentioned. “I attribute that to me not with the ability to breathe, and struggling to breathe.”

On June 5, Ramirez, 28, turned the first known COVID-19 patient in the U.S. to bear a double lung transplant. She is robust sufficient now to start sharing the story of her ordeal.

Mysterious publicity

Earlier than the pandemic, Ramirez labored as a paralegal for an immigration legislation agency in Chicago. She loved strolling her canines and working 5K races.

Ramirez had been working from residence since mid-March, hardly leaving the home, so she has no concept how she contracted the coronavirus. In late April, she began experiencing continual spasms, diarrhea, lack of style and scent, and a slight fever.

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Mayra Ramirez started working from residence. She’s not sure how she contracted COVID-19.

Northwestern Drugs


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Northwestern Drugs

When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Mayra Ramirez started working from residence. She’s not sure how she contracted COVID-19.

Northwestern Drugs

“I felt very fatigued,” Ramirez mentioned. “I wasn’t in a position to stroll lengthy distances with out falling over. And that is once I determined to enter the emergency room.”

From the ER to a ventilator

The employees at Northwestern checked her vitals and located her oxygen ranges have been extraordinarily low. She was given 10 minutes to clarify her scenario over the telephone to her mom in North Carolina and appoint her to make medical selections on her behalf.

Ramirez knew she was about to be positioned on a ventilator, however she did not perceive precisely what that meant.

“In Spanish, the phrase ‘ventilator’ — ventilador — is ‘fan,’ so I believed, ‘Oh, they’re simply gonna blow some air into me and I will be OK. Perhaps have a three-day keep, after which I will be proper out.’ So I wasn’t very nervous,” Ramirez mentioned.

In reality, she would spend the following six weeks closely sedated on that ventilator and one other machine — referred to as ECMO, or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation — pumping and oxygenating her blood exterior of her physique.

Earlier than the transplant, Mayra Ramirez spent weeks on a ventilator and an ECMO machine which oxygenated her blood, at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

Northwestern Drugs


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Northwestern Drugs

Earlier than the transplant, Mayra Ramirez spent weeks on a ventilator and an ECMO machine which oxygenated her blood, at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.

Northwestern Drugs

One idea about why Ramirez turned so sick is that she has a neurological condition that’s handled with steroids, medicine that may suppress the immune system.

By early June, Ramirez was liable to additional decline. She started displaying indicators that her kidneys and liver have been beginning to fail, with no enchancment in her lung perform. Her household was instructed she may not make it by way of the evening, so her mom and sisters caught the primary flight from North Carolina to Chicago to say goodbye.

Once they arrived, the medical doctors instructed Ramirez’s mom, Nohemi Romero, that there was one last item they may attempt.

Ramirez was a candidate for a double lung transplant, they mentioned, though the process had by no means been achieved on a COVID affected person within the U.S. Her mom agreed, and inside 48 hours of being listed for transplant, a donor was discovered and the profitable process was carried out on June 5.

At a latest information convention held by Northwestern Memorial, Romero shared in Spanish that there have been no phrases to explain the ache of not being by her daughter’s aspect as she struggled for her life.

She thanked God all went properly, and for giving her the power to make it by way of.

‘I simply felt like a vegetable’

Dr. Ankit Bharat, Northwestern Drugs’s chief of thoracic surgical procedure, carried out the 10-hour process.

“Most sufferers are fairly sick going into [a] lung transplant,” Bharat said in an interview in June. “However she was so sick. In reality, I can say with out hesitation, the sickest affected person I ever transplanted.”

Bharat mentioned most COVID-19 sufferers is not going to be candidates for transplants due to their age and different well being circumstances that lower the chance of success. And early research shows that as much as half of COVID sufferers on ventilators survive the sickness and are prone to get well on their very own.

However for some, like Ramirez, Bharat mentioned, a transplant could be a lifesaving choice of final resort.

When Ramirez wakened after the operation, she was disoriented, may barely transfer her physique and could not converse.

Dr. Ankit Bharat, Northwestern Drugs’s chief of thoracic surgical procedure, carried out the 10-hour process.

Northwestern Drugs


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Northwestern Drugs

Dr. Ankit Bharat, Northwestern Drugs’s chief of thoracic surgical procedure, carried out the 10-hour process.

Northwestern Drugs

“I simply felt like a vegetable. It was irritating, however on the time I did not have the cognitive capacity to course of what was occurring,” Ramirez mentioned.

She recalled being unhappy that her mom wasn’t along with her within the hospital, not understanding that guests weren’t allowed due to the pandemic.

Her household had despatched images to publish by her hospital mattress, and Ramirez mentioned she could not acknowledge anybody within the photos.

“I used to be truly form of upset about it, [thinking,] ‘Who’re these strangers and why are their photos in my room?'” Ramirez mentioned. “It was weeks later, truly, that I took a re-examination and realized, ‘Hey, that is my grandmother. That is my mother and my siblings. And that is me.”

After a couple of weeks, Ramirez mentioned, she lastly understood what occurred to her. When COVID-19 restrictions loosened on the hospital in mid-June, her mom was lastly in a position to go to.

“The very first thing I did was simply tear up,” Ramirez mentioned. “I used to be overjoyed to see her.”

The lengthy highway to restoration

After weeks of inpatient rehabilitation, Ramirez was discharged residence. She’s now receiving in-home nursing help in addition to bodily and occupational remedy, and he or she’s engaged on discovering a psychologist.

Ramirez eagerly seems to be ahead to with the ability to spend extra time along with her household, her boyfriend and her canines and serving the immigrant group by way of her authorized work.

However for now, her days are consumed by rehab. Her medical doctors say it is going to be at the least a yr earlier than she will perform independently and be as lively as earlier than.

Ramirez is slowly regaining power and studying how you can breathe along with her new lungs.

She takes 17 prescription medicines, a few of them a number of occasions a day, together with medicines to forestall her physique from rejecting the brand new lungs. She additionally takes anxiousness meds and antidepressants to assist her deal with day by day nightmares and panic assaults.

The long-term bodily and psychological well being tolls on Ramirez and different COVID-19 survivors stay largely unknown, because the virus is so new.

Whereas most individuals who contract the virus are left seemingly unscathed, for some sufferers, like Ramirez, the highway to restoration is stuffed with uncertainty, mentioned Dr. Mady Hornig, a physician-scientist on the Columbia College Mailman Faculty of Public Well being.

Some sufferers can expertise post-intensive care syndrome, or PICS, which may encompass melancholy, reminiscence points and different cognitive and psychological well being issues, Hornig mentioned. Underneath regular circumstances, ICU visits from family members are inspired, she mentioned, as a result of the human interplay may be protecting.

“That kind of contact would usually maintain folks oriented … in order that it would not develop into as traumatic,” Hornig mentioned.

Hopes for the longer term

COVID-19 has disproportionately harmed Latino communities, as Latinos are overrepresented in jobs that expose them to the virus and have decrease charges of medical insurance and different social protections.

Ramirez has medical insurance, though that hasn’t spared her from tens and 1000’s of {dollars}’ price of medical payments.

And although she nonetheless ended up getting COVID-19, she counts herself fortunate for having a job that allowed her to do business from home when the pandemic struck. Many Latino employees do not have that luxurious, she mentioned, so that they’re pressured to danger their lives doing low-wage jobs deemed important at the moment.

Ramirez’s mom is a breast most cancers survivor, making her significantly weak to COVID-19. She had been working at a meatpacking plant in North Carolina, for a corporation that Ramirez mentioned has had lots of of COVID-19 instances amongst staff.

So Ramirez is relieved to have her mother in Chicago, serving to care for her.

“I am glad that is taking her away from her place,” Ramirez mentioned.

Family and friends in North Carolina have been fundraising to assist pay her medical payments, promoting raffle tickets and organising a GoFundMe page on her behalf. Ramirez can be making use of for monetary help from the hospital.

Her expertise with COVID-19 has not modified who she is as an individual, she mentioned, and he or she seems to be ahead to dwelling her life to the fullest.

If she ever will get the possibility to talk with the household of the particular person whose lungs she now has, she mentioned, she is going to thank them “for elevating such a wholesome baby and a caring particular person [who] was form sufficient to develop into an organ donor.”

Her life could by no means be the identical, however that does not imply she will not attempt. She laughs as she explains how she requested her surgeon to take her skydiving sometime.

“Dr. Bharat truly used to work at a skydiving firm when he was youthful,” Ramirez mentioned. “And so he promised me that, hopefully inside a yr, he may get me there.”

And she or he has each intention of holding him to that promise.

This story is a part of a reporting partnership that features Illinois Public Media, Facet Results Public Media, NPR and KHN.



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