Beloved Milwaukee community leader needs double lung transplant, after battling COVID-19

Posted at 6:45 PM, Oct 16, 2020
and last updated 2020-10-21 17:34:29-04

Update: A friend of Carmen Lerma tells TMJ4 that lungs became available this week and doctors successfully completed the lung transplant. She is recovering and doing well, the friend says.

Carmen Lerma is well-known in Milwaukee for doing whatever she can to help anyone going through hard times. Lerma is a director at UMOS, United Migrant Opportunity Services, and is active in the Latino community.

Now, Lerma is in the fight of her life.

She spoke with us from her hospital room at UW Health in Madison.

“Forgive me, because I am a little short of breath today, and a little tired,” Lerma said.

Despite the fatigue, she wants to share her story to educate others.

On July 13, she received a call from the health department that she was exposed to someone who tested positive for COVID-19. Three days later, she was admitted to Ascension St. Francis. She went on to spend 45 days in intensive care. Blisters on her face, from the ventilator, are still healing. But, miraculously, she beat the virus.

That was just the beginning. The virus did irreversible damage to her lungs. Carmen doesn’t have any underlying medical conditions, and has never been a smoker. Despite that, at the age of 52, she now needs a double lung transplant as soon as possible. Her doctors confirm it’s because of the toll COVID-19 took on her body.

“That was a hard pill to swallow, because I'm like, ‘Wait, what? What do you mean?’ And they said, ‘your lungs are not going to get any better unless we do this.’”

She was transferred to UW Health in Madison, where she will remain until she gets the transplant. She is hooked up to oxygen, and struggles to walk more than 500 feet without running out of breath.

She’s now been in a hospital setting, with no visitors allowed, for three months. The support she’s receiving from her family and friends is what keeps her going. They’ve raised more than $25,000 to help with her medical bills.

“Boy, was I overwhelmed in looking at everything they're doing for me,” Lerma said. “It's priceless. I will never forget this.”

Doctors can’t say when the lung transplant will happen. It could be weeks or months. Carmen is on the organ donation list. She will have a long road to recovery, and her life will be different going forward, but her focus, after all she’s been through, is simply that - to live.

“I miss my family, but I get strength in thinking of them” Lerma said. “I believe in staying positive. Even sitting here in this bed, every morning I think to myself, these are my goals for the day. I’m going to do all of them. Even if they are just baby steps. Then, I force myself to smile because that's the best you can do to heal.”

If you'd like to help Lerma, a GoFundMe has been set up.

There is also an account at Landmark Credit Union that you can donate to, called "Carmen's Lungs."

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