CHICAGO (CBS) — What a day it is for a very grateful Glendale Heights man.

He’s the first known COVID-19 patient to receive a double lung transplant from a COVID-19 donor at Chicago’s Northwestern Medicine.

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Now, exactly one year from the day his journey began, we’re hearing his remarkable story.

“Here I am. Thank you. I’m alive.”

At 65, Renato Aquino enjoyed a happy, healthy life, surrounded by family. But on  May 14 of 2020, he found he could barely breathe.

The diagnosis: COVID-19.

Months on life-supporting machines weren’t helping, and doctors told his family to say their goodbyes. Then they learned Northwestern Medicine was performing lung transplants on COVID patients.

Aquino was transferred there in early February and had his surgery weeks later.

Aquino’s donor had the virus, but it was not the cause of death.The lungs were carefully tested and deemed viable for a history-making operation.

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“It was determined that the virus had been eradicated from the donor’s lungs,” said Doctor Rafael Garza. “This is important because there is already a large supply and demand gap for organ donors.”

Aquino underwent rehab, getting back on his feet just weeks after surgery. And  last week, he was able to leave the hospital. His family’s over the moon.

He is still on the road to recovery, but now he’s able to breathe completely on his own. Aquino said he can’t wait to get back to being the “fun uncle” who loves to make silly faces and joke with  his nieces and nephews.

Ironically, Aquino was on the front lines of the pandemic, as a blood technician caring for COVID patients, something he dearly loves.

The first-known double-lung transplant on a COVID survivor in the U.S. was performed at Northwestern Memorial, back in June of 2020.

Since then, Northwestern Medicine surgeons have completed 19 more, the most performed at any hospital in the world.

All 20 patients are expected to make full recoveries and return to their daily lives.

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CBS 2 Chicago Staff