MADISON (WKOW) — A Milwaukee-area woman is the first COVID patient in Wisconsin to have a double lung transplant, which she received right here in Madison.

Carmen Lerma was diagnosed with COVID-19 four months ago. She only just got to leave University Hospital in Madison on Thursday.

“I never thought I would be able to do this again. So I really want to take a moment to thank UW Health,” said Carmen.

Originally from the Milwaukee area, she was transferred to University Hospital in October.

Dr. Dan McCarthy, a cardiothoracic surgeon with UW Health, says although she survived the COVID infection, the disease had damaged her lungs so badly that a double transplant was her only option.

“Her lung function was significantly worse than the average transplant patient that we see,” he said.

Finding lung donors is hard enough: according to Dr. McCarthy, only 20 percent of organ donors have viable lungs. On top of that, her struggle with COVID created unique circumstances.

“Because COVID is so new, there’s really not a lot of evidence about when is the right time to transplant these patients,” said Dr. McCarthy.

After only a few days at the top of the transplant wait list, a donor came through for Carmen.

The operation was a success and after two more weeks of recovery, Carmen was finally able to reunite with her family.

“My heart was pounding– I haven’t seen them in a while. To just get up and come to them, it’s priceless,” said Carmen.

Her husband, brother Mario and mother were there waiting to pick her up.

“There’s really no words that can cover it, her being able to get out and breathe that fresh air without having to be connected somehow,” said Mario.

Although she faces a long road to recovery, Dr. McCarthy is optimistic Carmen will get back to the life she had before COVID.

While Carmen’s case was extreme, Dr. McCarthy warns that there may be other patients like her in the future as more people contract the virus.

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