A man from Lake Zurich, who was the second known COVID-19 patient in the nation to undergo a double lung transplant, thought the virus was a hoax until he contracted it.
“This disease is not a joke,” said Brian Kuhns, 62, during a press conference at Chicago’s Northwestern Memorial Hospital. “I was perfectly healthy. This thing brought me down, difficult.”
Wearing a hospital gown and a protective mask, Kuhns appeared at the media event with his partner Mayra Ramirez, a 28-year-old from Chicago, who was the first known coronavirus patient to undergo the procedure.
Ramirez was operated on at the Northwestern Memorial on June 5. Kuhns underwent the procedure there on July 5th.
Both patients spent weeks in the hospital’s COVID intensive care unit on life-support machines, but now breathe on their own without supplemental oxygen.
“I’m getting stronger every day,” said Kuhns. “Good people took care of me, they saved me. It’s a miracle.”
Kuhns is still being treated at the Northwestern Memorial, while Ramirez has been released.
Kuhns, owner of BK Auto Repair in Schaumburg, experienced stomach pain, fluctuating temperatures and other COVID-19 symptoms for the first time in March, according to dr. Ankit Bharat, head of thoracic surgery and surgical director of the lung transplant program of Northwestern Medicine.
When Kuhns also developed a cough, he went to a local emergency room and then was hospitalized in a secret hospital to be treated for the virus.
Eventually he was transferred to the Northwestern Memorial to be considered for a double lung transplant.
The surgery lasted 10 hours, a few hours longer than normal due to serious internal damage caused by the virus.
During Thursday’s press conference, Kuhns admitted that he had not taken COVID-19 precautions before his diagnosis.
“I just went through normal (life),” he said. “I didn’t wear a mask or anything. But it’s real, no doubt.”
Due to the illness, Kuhns spent 100 days in life support and spent four months without seeing his wife Nancy or the rest of his family.
Nancy Kuhns was sitting with her husband at the press conference. She said she feels “overwhelmed and grateful”.
Nancy Kuhns also called on people to take the COVID-19 threat seriously.
“Stay safe and listen to what they are saying to you about washing, masks and everything,” he said. “It’s not a hoax.”
While noticing a lung transplant isn’t for all patients with COVID-19, Bharat said it might offer some people another option for survival.
“Mayra and Brian are living proof of this,” said Bharat.
Thoracic surgeon Dr. Rafael Garza Castillon said Northwestern is considering performing the procedure on other patients who have eliminated the virus and have no other serious organ failure.
A web page created to help Kuhns pay his medical bills is at gofundme.com/f/brian-kuhns-and-family.
• Daily Herald news services contributed to this report.