Madison, Wisconsin – When Carmen Lerma was transferred to University Hospital in October following a long battle with COVID-19, she wasn’t sure if or when she’d ever see her family again.
The disease had so damaged her lungs that a double lung transplant was her only chance for survival. After spending only a few days on the transplant waiting list, her doctors got the call that a person who had just lost their own life was about to give Lerma a second chance at hers.
On November 5, 2020 – two weeks after her transplant surgery and four months after her COVID-19 diagnosis – Lerma left the transplant unit at University Hospital, where she was finally reunited outside the hospital entrance with her husband, her brother and her mother.
“I hadn’t seen my family in so long, and to finally be able to stand here and walk over to them is priceless,” said Lerma. “I never thought that I’d be able to do this again, so I really want to thank all the UW Health doctors and nurses, all of whom were amazing. It was a rough journey that got me here, but a great ending.”
Lerma became the first person in Wisconsin to undergo a double lung transplant because of COVID-19. Dr. Dan McCarthy, UW Health cardiothoracic surgeon, said that Carmen still has a long road to recovery, but he is encouraged by the progress she’s made so far and optimistic about her chances to get back to the life she had prior to her COVID-19 diagnosis. [She provided updates to Fox6 News Milwaukee in March 2021 and TMJ4 in November 2021.]
Meanwhile, Lerma is aware that transplant recipients like her get a second chance at life because of the heroic decisions of their organ donors and their families. She has since written a letter to the family of the person whose lungs she now has and expressed her gratitude for the gift of life they gave her.