Autoimmune Patient Becomes First Double-Lung Transplant Recipient after Surviving COVID-19

Mayra Ramirez is the first known patient in the US to receive a double lung transplant after surviving COVID-19

Mayra Ramirez, a 28-year-old paralegal, had always been relatively healthy, enjoying going for runs around her Chicago neighborhood. She had neuromyelitis optica (NMO), an autoimmune disease that affects the spinal cord and nerves of the eyes. Other than this diagnosis, however, she was in good health and took extra precautions when COVID-19 hit Illinois.

Mayra Ramirez, a 28-year-old paralegal and autoimmune patient, contracted COVID-19 despite taking precautions

In March, she began working from home and rarely left home. But in April, Ramirez says she began to experience symptoms of fatigue, chronic spasms, diarrhea, and loss of taste and smell, in addition to a slight fever. So she contacted her doctor, who recommended that she monitor her symptoms from home, and keep in touch with a COVID-19 hotline.

Unfortunately, in late April, Ramirez started to feel “really bad” and ended up going to the ER at Northwestern Memorial Hospital where she was put on a ventilator. From that moment on, she says “everything was a blur”.

Ramirez spent the next six weeks in the COVID ICU, on both a ventilator and ECMO, a technique of providing prolonged cardiac and respiratory support to patients whose heart and lungs cannot support themselves. By early June, her lungs showed irreversible damage and the hospital’s medical team said that it was clear that only a double-lung transplant could save her.

Mayra Ramirez’s lungs suffered irreversible damage from COVID-19 (pictured here is one of her lungs)

“Once Mayra’s body cleared the virus, it became obvious that the lung damage wasn’t going to heal, and we needed to list her for a lung transplant,” said Beth Malsin, MD, a Pulmonary and Critical Care Specialist with the hospital.

So on June 5th, Ramirez underwent the life-saving double lunch transplant procedure, making her the first known patient in the US to receive such a transplant after surviving COVID-19. She was discharged from the hospital on July 8th, but has continued to receive occupational and physical therapy after the procedure.

Mayra Ramirez received a double-lung transplant after experiencing severe lung damage due to COVID-19

Ankit Bharat, MD, Surgical Director of the Northwestern Medicine Lung Transplant Program, stated “When we opened Mayra’s chest cavity, large parts of her lungs were necrotic and filled with infection. The severe damage and inflammation to the lungs had caused pressure overload on the heart which further made the surgery quite complex…Nevertheless, the success of [the transplant] emphasizes that surgical innovation can also play an important role in helping some critically ill COVID-19 patients.”

Mayra Ramirez stands alongside Dr. Bharat and Dr. Tomic, two of the medical professionals from Northwestern Medicine who aided her in the fight against COVID-19

When asked about her experience with COVID-19, and what she would want others to know about the disease, Ramirez says, “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.”

To learn more about Mayra’s story and her experience as an autoimmune patient with coronavirus, please visit the Northwestern Medicine website.

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Dutch Skating Champion Lara van Rujiven Dies from Autoimmune Disease

Speed skating champion Lara van Rujiven passed away from complications due to an autoimmune disease on Friday night, the Dutch Speed Skating Association KNSB has reported.

The 27-year-old gold medalist athlete was admitted to a hospital in Perpignan, France on June 25 with symptoms indicating that her immune system was compromised. She began to experience internal bleeding, including in her brain, and underwent two operations while being kept in an artificial coma.

Sadly, van Rujiven eventually succumbed to complications of her autoimmune disease. While the exact nature of her autoimmune condition is unknown, some have speculated that she suffered from autoimmune encephalitis, vasculitis, idiopathic thrombocytopenic purpura (ITP), lupus, or one of the many other autoimmune conditions which can cause internal bleeding.

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Van Rujiven won the gold medal for the 500-metre short track skating championship in 2019 in Bulgaria, becoming the first woman from the Netherlands to do so.

Fans and fellow athletes alike took to social media to express their sadness about her passing. “What terrible news we’ve just received. The loss will be felt in the sports world,” Dutch national coach Jeroen Otter said.

On behalf of Autoimmune Warrior, I’d like to send our condolences to Lara’s family. Her story demonstrates that autoimmune disease really has no bounds, and can affect even the strongest among us in the prime of their life. Rest in peace, Lara – you’ve made the Netherlands proud!

What is Medical Gaslighting?

“Maybe it’s just all in my head?”

That was the question Isabella Rosario asked herself after unsuccessfully trying to get a diagnosis for her numerous debilitating symptoms for over a year-long period. These concerning symptoms included migraines, joint dislocations, chest pain, lightheadedness, pneumonia and more. When she first saw a doctor at her university clinic, and later, her GP, she was told what she was experiencing was due to stress related to her studies, and completely psychological in nature. Eventually, after seeing numerous specialists, she was diagnosed with two chronic health conditions – hypermobility spectrum disorder (HPD) and postural orthostatic tachycardia syndrome (POTS). 

Isabella was fortunate to eventually get a diagnosis, but other chronic illness sufferers are not so lucky. Many medical professionals routinely dismiss their patients’ ailments and concerns – a phenomenon known as medical gaslighting. Eventually, patients who have been gaslit will begin to question their own sanity and wonder if their health problems are actually ‘real’ or just a figment of their own imagination.

According to the blog A Journey Through the Fog, medical gaslighting can take many forms, including:

  • Minimizing debilitating or dangerous symptoms. – “Your pain can’t be that bad
  • Blaming symptoms on mental illness. – “It’s all in your head” 
  • Assuming a diagnosis based on sex, race, identity, age, gender, ethnicity or weight. – “If you lost weight, your symptoms would disappear
  • Refusing to order important tests or imaging work. – “I know you don’t have [condition], I do not need an MRI to tell me this. I know how to do my job
  • Refusing to discuss the health issues with the patient. Berating patients for trying to self-diagnose. – “Who’s the doctor here, me or Google?” 

Throughout the course of my journey to being diagnosed with various autoimmune diseases and chronic illnesses, including Sjogren’s Syndrome, Hidradenitis Suppurativa and Benign Fasciculation Syndrome, my symptoms were either minimized or completely discounted by medical professionals. As I detail in the blog post, When Your Doctor Doesn’t Believe You, when I first brought up joint pain in my hands to my GP at age 19, he accused me of ‘texting too much’ when in reality, I had undiagnosed Sjogren’s Syndrome that was quickly developing into Rheumatoid Arthritis (RA).

In another instance, I needed a referral to see a Rheumatologist. When the nurse checked me in and asked about the reason for the visit, she said, ‘How does someone your age need to see a Rheumatologist? Did you wear high heels too much in high school?’ This kind of comment is not only rude and uncalled for, but patronizing and dismissive as well. People of all ages can experience a myriad of health issues, and should be taken seriously.

Last year, a video posted by a nurse on the popular social media platform TikTok drew outrage among the chronic illness community. The video featured a nurse imitating a patient struggling to breathe, while the nurse refused to help. She then captioned the video with the words: “We know when y’all are faking’. The video prompted many chronic illness patients to respond recounting their own stories of medical gaslighting, using the hashtag #PatientsAreNotFaking.

According to healthline.com, women are more likely to have their pain described as ’emotional’ or psychological in nature. Meanwhile, patients of color are less likely to be thoroughly examined as compared to their white counterparts. This systemic sexism and racism in the healthcare industry was also pointed out by many using the same hashtag:

In order for patients to get the healthcare they need (and deserve), medical professionals need to take their patients seriously; and that includes listening to their experiences, being compassionate, and issuing the necessary examinations and other tests needed to get an accurate diagnosis. My hope is that if you’ve ever experienced medical gaslighting, that you remain assertive and find a healthcare team that will take the necessary action to diagnose and treat your illness.

Have you experienced medical gaslighting before? If so, comment below to share your experience.