Articles, Blog

Saving Lives with ECMO: The Lung Rescue Program at Penn Medicine

December 24, 2019

I woke up and I felt like I had been
stabbed in the back. They told me that I had pneumonia. My lungs weren’t
functioning properly, it was unlike anything I’d ever experienced. The chance of surviving was the percentage of being
struck by lightning. The doctors had done
pretty much everything that they could. Your life can change in an instant. I had no idea how critical the situation was. The one last chance we can try is
the Penn Lung Rescue unit. Dr. Vernick got up in the middle of the night and
came and got me. Penn Lung Rescue came busting through
the doors I heard the helicopter land, it was like cavalry arriving. Doctors were always
like just at the perfect timing in the sequence just a step ahead of where we needed
to be to save her life. The ECMO machine is one of the key
things that saved my life. ECMO is a complicated way of saying it’s
a device that exchanges gas with your blood. So you basically take a patient’s blood,
run it through a machine that has a pump, and what’s called an oxygenator
and is able to put oxygen in the patient’s blood and take
carbon dioxide out. Now mobile ECMO is a way of saying, we’re gonna do this procedure which we
normally do in our hospital on super sick people and do it in someone else’s
hospital. This is a portable device and we can take somebody
whose lungs aren’t working at all and basically do the job of their lungs, or if their heart’s not working
do the job of the heart and lungs. For the lung rescue program
we’re targeting the patient’s lungs. Prior to the beginning of the lung rescue program, patients that were in need of our expertise
would often have two options one: continued consultation
with our team, or in a very creative fashion
work with our PennSTAR team to bring these patients here in a very acute fashion. Often times these situations
were very clinically challenging and when they arrived here
in our ICU patients often were in a worse shape than they were when they started
because of the transfer. There was a number of reports coming out of Europe
regarding successful mobile ECMO programs. So we really looked ourselves and said
not only does our region need this, but this is something we can do and
something we should do. This is one of the most fulfilling things I do.
When I get to the outside hospital, the families are very scared to be able to
reassure them like ok if there’s a shot, we can give it to you. What was happening before is
when the patient would get that sick, they wouldn’t call us because
they know they’ll die in transport. So the real key to the continued success
of the program. is the amazing team and resources
we have access to here. What makes our lung rescue program unique
is our commitment to the best quality of
care for our patients. We feel that if we cannot offer our expertise,
by bringing it to them, we should bring the patient to us. Transport success is the key. The lung rescue program is something that really changes the course of what can
take place in an illness. We’re gonna expand the indications with new technology
perhaps expanding the footprint expanding the distance, helping
more patients. We can take somebody that, almost everybody by any measure thinks
is definitely going to die and save them. There’s no reason a young woman who gets pneumonia
should die from that. Our outcomes are some of the best in the country
we know that from our databases, but what we’d like to build is even
better. We’d like to get as close to perfect as possible.

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