In June, a 28-year-old Chicago woman became the first person in the country to undergo a double lung transplant due to the coronavirus.
She told reporters in a press conference on Thursday that she woke up from the surgery in mid-June, and "couldn't recognize my body."
Mayra Ramirez had an autoimmune condition that may have made her more susceptible to the coronavirus when she caught the disease in April.
The disease severely damaged her lungs, leaving her on a ventilator for roughly six weeks until doctors placed her on the transplant list.
One of her doctors said lung transplants are gradually becoming a more accepted treatment for patients like Ramirez, and "offer some of the critically ill patients another option for survival."
Mayra Ramirez, a COVID-19 survivor due to a double-lung transplant, listens Thursday, July 30, 2020, to a question about her journey through the pandemic during her first news conference at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago.
Associated Press/Charles Rex Arbogast
The 28-year-old Chicago woman who became the first person in the United States to receive a lung transplant due to the coronavirus spoke out in a press conference on Thursday about the illness that nearly killed her.
COVID-19 damaged Mayra Ramirez's lungs so severely that they were riddled with holes and scars. Her only option was a double lung transplant — a procedure that has been used on only several other coronavirus patients in China and Europe, according to the Associated Press.
Ramirez told reporters on Thursday that the last thing she remembered was telling her doctors in April that she wanted her mother and older sister to make medical decisions for her. The next thing she recalled was awaking groggily in mid-June after the surgery.
"I looked at myself and couldn't recognize my body," she said. "I didn't have the cognitive ability to process what was going on. All I knew was that I wanted water."
She spoke to reporters from Chicago's Northwestern Memorial Hospital, along with the US's second coronavirus patient to undergo the double lung transplant, 62-year-old Brian Kuhns.
Ramirez and Kuhns' doctors told reporters that neither patient would be alive had it not been for the transplants.
"[A] lung transplant isn't for every patient with COVID-19, but it does offer some of the critically ill patients another option for survival," Dr. Ankit Bharat, a thoracic surgeon and surgical director of the Northwestern Medicine Lung Transplant Program, said at the press conference. "Mayra and Brian are living proof of that."
He added that lung transplants are gradually becoming a more accepted option for lung-damaged COVID-19 patients who are relatively young and have few other underlying medical conditions.
Ramirez told The New York Times that she had contracted coronavirus likely in April, even though she had been socially distancing and working from home. She said she had an autoimmune condition and took immunosuppressants that may have made her particularly susceptible to the coronavirus.
She said she went to the hospital in late April after weeks of feeling ill, and doctors quickly told her she would need a ventilator. Yet even after the disease had left her body, her lungs were so severely damaged that doctors placed her on the transplant list.
She told The Times that when she eventually awoke from the 10-hour transplant surgery in mid-June, she believed it was still May. It wasn't until much later that she realized what a lung transplant had meant.
"It wasn't until weeks later that I had the ability to, you know, think to myself, 'There's a family out there that's grieving their loved one'," Ramirez said at the press conference. "I have that person's lungs. And how lucky I was to have received it."
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