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.
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.
“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.
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.”
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.