Kate Ramirez is asking for prayers as her 28-year-old sister, Mayra, recovers from a double lung transplant she received earlier this month as a result of complications from COVID-19.
She’s also hoping her sister’s story will serve as a cautionary tale.
Mayra Ramirez never smoked and was following stay-at-home orders when she got sick with a virus often associated with older adults and those with existing health issues, according to her sister. But “age doesn’t matter” when it comes to the coronavirus, Kate Ramirez said. “We shouldn’t take this virus as a joke.”
Northwestern Medicine surgeons performed the 10-hour surgery on June 5 after Mayra Ramirez spent six weeks on a ventilator and a life-support machine that performed the work of her heart and lungs.
“By early June, the patient’s lungs showed irreversible damage and lung transplant was the only option,” Dr. Ankit Bharat, chief of thoracic surgery at Northwestern Memorial Hospital said last week. “If she didn’t have a transplant, she would not be alive.”
It’s believed to be among the first surgeries of its type on a COVID-19 survivor.
Kate Ramirez has since set up a GoFundMe campaign seeking financial help with medical bills not covered by insurance. As of Monday morning, they had reached $17,000 of their $100,000 goal.
“Any little dollar helps her,” she said.
She knows her sister has a long recovery ahead.
“A couple of years ago, I got a heart transplant,” she said. “I’ll always stick by her side because I know the process and I know how it feels to take medicines every day of your life until your last day, and I know it’s going to get frustrating and there’ll be days you want to give up.
“But if God gave us this second opportunity, we need to go for it because God does everything for a reason. … I know Mayra will make it through and continue with her life just as she was living before this lung transplant.”
Before the surgery, family members were planning for the worst, Kate Ramirez said.
“The doctors would call us every day,” she said, but it was never good news. “We never received a phone call we wanted to hear.”
One of the worst calls came on the afternoon of June 3, after an emergency surgery caused a rare complication: bleeding in her lungs.
“(Doctors) tried to help stop the bleeding, but she lost too much blood and they called us and said they didn’t think she was going to make it past the night,” Kate Ramirez said.
By that point, Mayra Ramirez had already been approved for a double lung transplant, but, according to her sister, “they said in her condition she wouldn’t make it.”
The family immediately left Clinton, North Carolina, and headed for Chicago. They arrived late on the night of June 3. “The whole way there we’re praying and praying,” said Kate Ramirez. “We were literally calling funeral places to ask about prices. We actually thought that would be her last day alive and we were preparing ourselves to go pick up a body.”
But when the family arrived at the hospital they were greeted with good news: Doctors were able to stabilize Mayra Ramirez and stop the bleeding, which meant she was again eligible for the double lung transplant.
“It’s very unbelievable what we went through. … We’re told she’s not going to make it past this day and then hours later she’s stable and a couple hours later a donor was found,” said Kate Ramirez. “It was crazy, but we always had faith. We never lost faith.”