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After many weeks on a ventilator in the intensive care unit (ICU) at Chicago’s Northwestern Memorial Hospital, 28-year-old Mayra Ramirez was critically ill with COVID-19. A paralegal who had enjoyed running 5K races, her lungs were now ravaged. She developed severe acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) and required extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO)—a respite for her lungs that provided oxygen by continuously pumping her blood through an artificial lung machine. She had sepsis and her kidneys and liver were beginning to fail.
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Ramirez couldn’t be weaned off of ECMO or sedation and was listed for a lung transplant. In June 2020, Ankit Bharat, MD, chief of thoracic surgery and surgical director of lung transplantation and respiratory ECMO at Northwestern, performed a bilateral lung transplant, giving Ramirez the distinction of being the first person in the US known to have undergone the procedure to treat COVID-19.
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