MedWatch Today: ECMO machine saves COVID-19 patient’s life

Med Watch Today

Most people who get COVID-19 will recover just fine at home, but there are some who require hospitalization. Doctors at Community Regional Medical Center said a small percentage of critically ill Coronavirus patients may have to go on the ECMO machine, a treatment that requires a specialized team and helps patients’ lungs and heart heal, by circulating blood outside the body and pumping it back in.

It is nothing short of a miracle that Almufo Sanchez is sitting here today, holding his wife’s hand. Sanchez is from the Central Coast and was diagnosed with the Coronavirus just a few months ago, but he quickly became severely ill and was transferred to Community Regional for a higher level of care.

Dr. Mohamed Fayed works in the pulmonary critical care unit at Community Regional. He said, “He clearly failed all the conventional therapy and he didn’t have any other chances. His lung was completely failing, the infection was overwhelmingly in his lung.”

Dr. Fayed said Sanchez had nearly no oxygen in his blood when he arrived.

“You can see him, he’s blue so he was very, very sick at that time,” said Dr. Fayed.

Dr. Fayed said Sanchez’s drastic decline in health speaks to the devastation of the Coronavirus.

He continued, “It’s really a difficult disease, because we know when the infection happens to the lung, most people recover on their own but we know that 20-percent of these people can get really sick. Fifteen-percent will require hospitalization, five-percent require ICU and the subset of the people who require ICR, the ICU level of care is not enough meaning the conventional mechanical ventilation is not enough for them and therefore the next step is ECMO.”

In a last effort to save his life, Sanchez was placed on ECMO. ECMO stands for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation – a way to put oxygen in the blood while bypassing the lungs.

Dr. Robert Stewart is a cardiothoracic surgeon at Community Medical Centers. He said, “Primarily what it’s doing is the work of the lungs. It’s taking blood that is unoxygenated and putting it through a circuit and oxygenator and oxygenating the blood and returning that blood to the body.”

He’s one of almost dozen healthcare workers at Community Regional who make up the team who lead and administer the ECMO machine.

Dr. Stewart explains, it takes a large, multidisciplinary team to successfully execute the round-the-clock ECMO treatment on a patient. Community Regional is the only hospital in the valley with this kind of excellent and comprehensive care for adults.

“It’s myself or a cardiac surgeon, it’s an anesthesiologist and an anesthesiology tech, it’s a profusionist, and it’s at least three nurses – a scrub nurse and two circulating nurses,” said Dr. Stewart.

Both doctors say Sanchez would have undoubtedly died had it not been for ECMO. He spent weeks in the hospital fighting for his life. He shared a few words with us, saying he has no words for the care he received at Community Regional, and there were doctors and healthcare workers who gave him encouragement to look ahead.

Dr. Fayed said, “Receiving patients from an outside hospital are very important to me because I want to make sure that everyone can get the opportunity to receive this kind of treatment for this infection.”

Though it’s Sanchez and his family who are grateful for the outstanding care they received at Community Regional. Dr. Fayed and Dr. Stewart said they are the ones filled with gratitude to be able to treat and save COVID-19 patients.

“I’m so pleased that each of these patients can get that chance again… I’m very proud to be part of this team… I’m very proud to be at Community Regional Medical Center especially at this time and offer this service to the entire Central Valley,” said Dr. Stewart.

Sanchez said he looks forward to reuniting with his children and his wife. He knows now the power of never giving up on hope and life.

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