COVID-19-IN­FLICTED PA­TIENTS FIRST IN THE COUN­TRY TO RE­CEIVE DOU­BLE-LUNG TRANSPLANT­S

Chicago Sun-Times - - TOP NEWS - BY STE­FANO ES­POS­ITO, STAFF RE­PORTER ses­pos­ito@sun­times.com | @sle­spos­ito

Mayra Ramirez de­scribed her worst mo­ment — when she was close to death and how her mother had been told to catch the first flight to Chicago to come say good­bye.

As Ramirez spoke Thurs­day, her mother sat a few feet away, silent, most of her face and her out­ward emo­tions hid­den be­hind a sur­gi­cal mask.

“What hurts the most is know­ing ev­ery­thing my fam­ily went through dur­ing the time I was in­tu­bated,” said Ramirez softly, as she ap­peared with the team of North­west­ern Me­mo­rial Hospi­tal doc­tors who en­sured her mother never had to ut­ter that aw­ful word, “Good­bye.”

Ramirez, 28, of Chicago, and Brian Kuhns, a 62-year-old me­chanic from Lake Zurich, were both North­west­ern pa­tients who made his­tory: They were the first in the na­tion to re­ceive dou­ble-lung transplant­s af­ter the coro­n­avirus de­stroyed those or­gans.

Ramirez, a para­le­gal who moved to the city from North Carolina six years ago, told re­porters that she’d been care­ful when the pan­demic swept through. She stayed home mostly, but still got sick. In April, she called her doc­tor af­ter she lost her sense of taste and smell — and felt ex­ces­sively tired. When she had faint­ing spells later that same month, she came to North­west­ern’s emer­gency room.

“I was asked who would be mak­ing my med­i­cal de­ci­sions for me,” Ramirez ex­plained. Her mother, she said. A few min­utes later, she was be­ing hooked up to a ven­ti­la­tor. The next few weeks were a blur with Ramirez of­ten un­able to dis­tin­guish re­al­ity from her fre­quent night­mares.

And then, when it seemed they’d run out of op­tions, doc­tors called Ramirez’s mother in North Carolina and told her it was time to make the trip out. But in­stead of bid­ding farewell, No­hemi Romero was asked to sign off on what would be a life-sav­ing op­er­a­tion for her daugh­ter. Romero didn’t hes­i­tate.

Ramirez, who had her op­er­a­tion June 5, is mak­ing good progress, hav­ing been dis­charged from the hospi­tal July 8.

“It wasn’t un­til weeks later that I was able to think to my­self that there is a fam­ily out there that is griev­ing their loved one. I have that per­son’s lungs and how lucky I was to have re­ceived it,” Ramirez said.

Be­fore Kuhns got sick in March, he didn’t see the point of face masks or buy­ing into the hype of the “hoax” virus.

He doesn’t feel that way now — not af­ter the dis­ease shred­ded his lungs and put him on a life-sup­port ma­chine for three months.

“I thought I was dead. I was done,” said Kuhns, his grate­ful wife at his side.

Kuhns has even re­gained his sense of hu­mor.

“I wouldn’t rec­om­mend this,” he said, his voice hoarse from hav­ing a plas­tic tube in his wind­pipe for so long.

Kuhns was asked how his life has changed since his July 5 trans­plant. He no longer takes any­thing for granted, he said.

“It’s all about your loved ones. They keep you go­ing. Oth­er­wise, what else is there?” he said.

Mayra Ramirez, left, seated, and Brian Kuhns, right, both COVID-19 sur­vivors who re­ceived dou­ble-lung transplant­s, pose Thurs­day with their med­i­cal teams at North­west­ern Me­mo­rial Hospi­tal. Ramirez is the first known pa­tient in the U.S. who re­ceived dou­ble-lung transplant­s be­cause of COVID-19. Kuhns is the sec­ond.

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