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Community rallies to help Latina leader hit by Covid, now in need of double-lung transplant

“If you think that this virus is a simple flu or that it’s not as bad as it’s seems to be ... listen to my story carefully ... "

A Wisconsin woman who is an active member of Milwaukee's Latino community is now battling for her life after contracting Covid-19. Carmen Lerma, 52, wants to share her story to educate others.

Lerma is hospitalized at UW Health in Madison and is on the organ donation list, waiting to receive a double-lung transplant. She contracted coronavirus in July and spent over a month and a half in intensive care.

Even though Lerma did not have any underlying medical conditions, doctors say her lungs suffered irreversible damage.

“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 told Milwaukee's NBC affiliate TMJ4 News.

On Monday, she was set to undergo extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, a form of life support that essentially takes the place of the heart and lungs, according to the American Thoracic Society. She hasn’t been able to see visitors for three months.

Lerma is director for events and community outreach at United Migrant Opportunity Services (UMOS), a nonprofit advocacy organization providing programs and services to under-served populations.

Carmen Lerma
Carmen Lerma.WTMJ-TV

“If you think that this virus is a simple flu or that it’s not as bad as it’s seems to be ... listen to my story carefully you will learn the struggle,” Lerma wrote on Facebook.

“I miss my family, but I get strength in thinking of them” Lerma said.

In Milwaukee, the community is rallying behind her to help with medical expenses.

Don Cohen, vice president of community development at Landmark Credit Union in the Milwaukee area, has worked with Lerma for years, partnering with UMOS on a variety of community events. Cohen and Victor Huyke, the owner of El Conquistador, a Latino newspaper, knew Lerma was really worried about the hospital expenses.

In response, they created a GoFundMe page that has raised over $27,614 as of Monday afternoon. “This really has taken a huge load off her mind,” Cohen told NBC News in an email. A fundraiser has also been scheduled for Thursday, which will include raffles and live performances.

Across the Midwest, coronavirus cases are surging. Wisconsin reported over 3,861 new coronavirus cases on Friday and the state now ranks fourth in a seven-day tally of new cases. Nationwide, more than 220,000 people in the United States have died of Covid-19, according to an NBC News tracker.

Carmen Hernandez, 47, has volunteered with Lerma in the past and says "everyone" in Milwaukee knows her. Whether it's helping low-income families pay off their utility bills or handing out backpacks with school supplies, Lerma is a welcoming face in the community.

“She is very kind. She is very loved,” said Hernandez by phone. “I feel so bad for her situation right now. She can’t even breathe. … It’s really hard for me to see her going through this when she’s such an active person.” Hernandez said she plans to contribute to the raffle.

“I want to raise that money to give to her surgery. We need to do something for her because she has been helping us,” she said. “Right now, she needs us.”

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