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Doctor from Oshkosh saves COVID-19 patient’s life with double-lung transplant

Published: Oct. 19, 2020 at 6:42 PM CDT
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OSHKOSH, Wis. (WBAY) - An Oshkosh native, now a pulmonologist and critical care physician in Chicago, was part of the first double-lung transplant due to COVID-19.

The successful surgery was done in June, but Dr. Elizabeth Malsin took some time out of her busy schedule to tell the Oshkosh Rotary Club about her experience treating COVID-19 patients in the ICU at Northwestern Medical Hospital.

“People with COVIDC-19 were coming in, what we would call ‘fast and hot,’ meaning they were really sick and they were getting sick quickly,” said Dr. Malsin.

One of those patients was 28-year-old Mayra Ramirez.

“On April 27, she came to the ER with really low oxygen,” said Dr. Malsin. “She just kind of looked at me and said, ‘Well, am I gonna be okay?’ and I said, ‘I don’t know, I hope so’.”

Within hours of being admitted to the hospital, Dr. Malsin said Ramirez was put on a ventilator and then ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation.)

“That is the most advanced form of life support that we have to support someone’s lungs,” said Dr. Malsin.

Ramirez was on those machines for a month, while COVID-19 caused irreparable damage to her lungs.

“This is not a lung that can recover no matter how much time you give someone,” said Dr. Malsin.

To save Ramirez’s life, Dr. Malsin said the medical team had to consider a double-lung transplant. Dr. Malsin said it was a difficult decision because doctors didn’t have much time with Ramirez before she got really sick. Plus, families were not allowed to be in the hospital due to COVID-19 restrictions.

“How do you evaluate if they’d want a transplant?” said Dr. Malsin. “It’s hard to evaluate for the families when they’re not even able to come in... but her family said ‘yes’, we think she would want this.”

The double-lung transplant was a success. On July 2, Ramirez left the hospital and went to rehab.

“It’s unpredictable. She is a 28-year-old woman. If she would not have been here, it would have been tragic. She likely would have died,” said Dr. Malsin.

Dr. Malsin said COVID-19 has shaped her career, but she will continue to do what she was trained to do and save lives.

“My life will never be the same. Everyone responds differently with varying degrees of fear....so why not me, why not put me in the game?” said Dr. Malsin.

Dr. Malsin graduated from Oshkosh North High School in 2003, went to University of Minnesota and onto medical school in Pennsylvania.

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