ECMO technology offers life-saving option for COVID-19 patients suffering respiratory issues

Coronavirus

FORT WAYNE, Ind. (WANE) — When not even a ventilator can help a recovering COVID-19 patient breathe, Lutheran Health is turning towards other treatments typically used for respiratory issues.

The hospital recently shared the story of Alejandro Zacavelazques, a man whose oxygen levels were so low after contracting COVID-19 that a breathing tube and ventilator were no longer effective in treating him. However, they were able to get him relief using a machine called Veno-Venous Extra Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation (VV ECMO).

The technology acts as an artificial lung and takes the pressure off of the patient’s body. Without that, the hospital Dr. Hannah Copeland, surgical director for Lutheran Heart Transplant and Mechanical Circulatory Support, and director of ECMO technology, Zacavelazques would have likely died.

“What happens is the lungs become so stiff on the ventilator if they can even get enough oxygen to get blood and oxygen to the rest of their body,” Copeland said. “It’s still the lungs, getting off the ventilators. If they make it so long rehabilitation process and potentially may need a lung transplant down the line, but usually, they don’t make it. And what happens is with these infections their body starts to develop other organ damage. Your other organs shut down, it just leads down to your body’s not going to make it.”

ECMO technology is typically used for acute respiratory distress caused by infections like asthma or pneumonia, but Copeland said it is becoming a more common treatment for COVID-19 respiratory issues.

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