Northwestern Memorial Hospital near Chicago says it has successfully completed two life-saving double lung transplants on COVID-19 patients — the first known procedures on virus patients in the U.S.
The procedures were conducted on a 28-year-old woman and a 62-year-old man earlier this summer.
According to a press release from Northwestern Medicine, Mayra Ramirez arrived at the Northwestern Memorial Hospital with COVID-19 symptoms on April 26. Within 10 minutes of arriving at the hospital, Ramirez was placed on a ventilator.
"From there, everything was a blur," Ramirez said.
COVID-19 had "overrun" the paralegal's lungs, according to Dr. Beth Malsin at Northwestern Memorial.
"For many days, she was the sickest person in our COVID ICU and possibly the entire hospital," she said.
Ramirez spent weeks in the COVID-19 ICU at the hospital, a time that she says she doesn't really remember.
"All I remember was being put to sleep as I was being intubated and then six weeks of complete nightmares," she told CNN. "Some of the nightmares consisted a lot of drowning, and I attribute that to not being able to breathe."
By early June, doctors had decided that the virus had done irreversible damage to Ramirez's lungs, and only a transplant would save her life. After an urgent evaluation, she was placed on the transplant list.
On June 5, Ramirez went through the life-saving procedure, just 48 hours after being listed on the transplant list.
According to The New York Times, doctors are often extremely hesitant to perform lung transplants — patients must be sick enough to require new organs, but also healthy enough to be able to survive the procedure and rehab. As an otherwise healthy 28-year-old woman, Ramirez fit the qualifications.
Ramirez was discharged from the hospital on July 8 — 71 days after she arrived at the hospital. She was the first COVID-19 patient in the United States to receive a double lung transplant.
“People need to understand that COVID-19 is real. What happened to me can happen to you. So please, wear a mask and wash your hands. If not for you, then do it for others,” Ramirez said.
Exactly one month after completing the first procedure, doctors at Northwestern Memorial performed a second double lung transplant on a COVID-19 patient. 62-year-old Brian Kuhns originally arrived at the hospital on March 18 after suffering from a severe cough.
Prior to arriving at the hospital, Kuhns thought COVID-19 was "a hoax," according to his wife, Nancy.
"I assure you; Brian’s tune has now changed. COVID-19 is not a hoax. It almost killed my husband,” Nancy Kuhns said.
Kuhns underwent surgery on July 5. According to the hospital, a typical double-lung transplant takes six or seven hours. Kuhns' surgery took 10 hours because COVID-19 resulted in lung necrosis and severe inflammation in the chest cavities.
Kuhns was taken off a ventilator a day after the surgery, and the hospital says he continues to recover at an "optimal" pace.
"If my story can teach you one thing, it’s that COVID-19 isn’t a joke. Please take this seriously," Kuhns said.