It’s been called life support of last resort; A machine that was mostly used as a bridge for people waiting for a heart or lung transplant Is now saving the lives of deathly ill COVID-19 patients.
18-year-old Payton Rose contracted the Coronavirus. Her mother, Jean Rose, heard from the doctor and said, “You’re telling me that my 18-year-old daughter, who was perfectly fine, had never been sick… Nothing … Is now on life support?” Adding, “It was very scary. Very, very scary.”
Today, Payton is thankful she’s alive, saying, “I didn’t realize just how much a lot of people cared about me. Until all that happened.”
It was August, during a family vacation in Georgia when Payton and her younger sister contracted COVID-19. Her sister bounced back quickly, but within a matter of days, Payton was in the ICU on a ventilator and struggling to breathe.
“It became very real,” her mother explained. “That this is no longer oh, she’s just sick. This is I’m gonna lose my daughter.”
Her family knew their options and time were dwindling.
Jean Rose recalled, “I think when the pulmonologist came, and knelt in front of me and said, ‘Jean, you can’t lose faith.’ And I said, ‘I’m about there.'” They were hoping something could save their daughter.
Dr. Beauvais said he had one more trick up his sleeve.
The Rose’s live in Punta Gorda and the Hail Mary they prayed for was a few hours away.
They put Payton on an ECMO machine, which stands for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation.
“The ECMO machine was starting to become this. Hey, you know what this is? Do you know what it can do?”
ICU Medical Director at NCH Dr. David Lindner, explained, “In its simplistic form ECMO is this technique by which we can oxygenate the blood. So, therefore, when the lungs are profoundly damaged, which we have seen often in the covid pandemic, we can utilize it and make sure that we can support the patient through basically the course of the disease that basically for many people would have led to their death.”
Dr. Lindner directs the COVID effort at NCH in Naples.
ECMO is the highest level of life support. It’s essentially a mobile heart-lung machine.
The ECMO unit cycles all the blood out of the body, oxygenates it, takes out carbon dioxide, warms it to body temperature, then pumps it back in – Giving the lungs a chance to rest and heal.
There are only 236 registered ECMO centers in the United States. Most only have the need for a few units. When the ECMO’s value to COVID-19 patients was discovered, it quickly became an object of great demand.
“We’ve had a number of people who did not do well,” Dr. Lindner added. “And then as we kept refining the criteria to really understand who was a good candidate and who was not a good candidate, we learned that in the world of treatment earlier was better. And so you needed to rapidly identify. Typically it was younger, rapidly, progressive individuals.”
COVID-19 patients can stay on a unit for weeks or even months.
Naples mother Angela Pena had an extended stay on an ECMO machine at NCH.
When she left, everyone lined the hallways, applauding, said Dr. Lindner, “Because it was a wonderful event to see her actually rollout. And I think she had been there for two to three months.”
Payton has little memory of her near-death experience. “It was really crazy because I was just like sleeping and suddenly I wake up and everyone’s like, oh my God.”
Her turnaround was miraculous and she was weaned off ECMO after four days.
“I’m pretty glad it’s there, Payton said. “Because otherwise, I don’t know that I would be here.”
And her mother was also just as glad. “If it was not for that machine, do you think she’d be here today? No, absolutely not. Absolutely not. That machine is a lifesaver,” Jean Rose said.
Undergoing ECMO treatment is a labor-intensive and expensive procedure, requiring one-on-one care specialized care around the clock for each patient.
Payton’s medical bill was $1.4 million dollars.