Better Health: Smart Health Commentary Better Health (TM): smart health commentary

Article Comments

Patient Remains On ECMO Machine For 13 Days And Survives

On September 21, 2008, 26-year old ML started feeling short of breath. It quickly got worse; she began to feel dizzy and started sweating profusely. Her family called an ambulance and she was rushed to NewYork Presbyterian’s The Allen Hospital, where her condition worsened. Her lungs were failing. Corey Ventetuolo, MD, her first pulmonologist, knew that ML needed to be transferred to NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center, but feared that she would die during the brief journey. Her family decided to take the risk.

ML did indeed flatline during the ambulance ride, but she did not die. Her survival despite severe lung failure is due to an advanced procedure known as ECMO, or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation – a process that takes over the function of the lungs. A patient’s blood is run out of his or her body, through the ECMO machine, which oxygenates the blood, and is then sent back into the body. The machine serves essentially as a set of mechanical lungs, allowing the patient to rest his or her biological lungs. It is less damaging than machines with a similar function, such as a mechanical ventilator, which forces the patient’s lungs to breathe and often harms them in the process.

When ML was put on ECMO in 2008, her pulmonologist, Jennifer Cunningham, MD, was hesitant to keep her on ECMO for over five hours, the recommended time limit. ML was the very first patient treated in the newly established Medical ECMO Program, and at that time, the full potential of ECMO was not yet very well understood. Dr. Cunningham recognized, however, that her patient was just barely clinging on to life; keeping her on ECMO was her only change for survival. So, with the family’s encouragement, ML was kept on ECMO for a full 13 days — and, against all odds, she recovered. Dr. Ventetuolo, who had remained deeply involved in her care, called it “miraculous.”

ML’s lung failure was caused by a cosmetic injection to her lower extremities gone awry. The silicone from the injection migrated into her bloodstream and found its way to her lungs, where it nearly killed her. Having survived this near-fatal episode, ML now speaks to women around the world, urging them to avoid cosmetic injections performed by unqualified, unlicensed practitioners, because as her story attests, they can have serious, if not deadly consequences.

*This blog post was originally published at Columbia University Department of Surgery Blog*


You may also like these posts

Read comments »


Comments are closed.

Return to article »

Latest Interviews

IDEA Labs: Medical Students Take The Lead In Healthcare Innovation

It’s no secret that doctors are disappointed with the way that the U.S. healthcare system is evolving. Most feel helpless about improving their work conditions or solving technical problems in patient care. Fortunately one young medical student was undeterred by the mountain of disappointment carried by his senior clinician mentors…

Read more »

How To Be A Successful Patient: Young Doctors Offer Some Advice

I am proud to be a part of the American Resident Project an initiative that promotes the writing of medical students residents and new physicians as they explore ideas for transforming American health care delivery. I recently had the opportunity to interview three of the writing fellows about how to…

Read more »

See all interviews »

Latest Cartoon

See all cartoons »

Latest Book Reviews

Book Review: Is Empathy Learned By Faking It Till It’s Real?

I m often asked to do book reviews on my blog and I rarely agree to them. This is because it takes me a long time to read a book and then if I don t enjoy it I figure the author would rather me remain silent than publish my…

Read more »

The Spirit Of The Place: Samuel Shem’s New Book May Depress You

When I was in medical school I read Samuel Shem s House Of God as a right of passage. At the time I found it to be a cynical yet eerily accurate portrayal of the underbelly of academic medicine. I gained comfort from its gallows humor and it made me…

Read more »

Eat To Save Your Life: Another Half-True Diet Book

I am hesitant to review diet books because they are so often a tangled mess of fact and fiction. Teasing out their truth from falsehood is about as exhausting as delousing a long-haired elementary school student. However after being approached by the authors’ PR agency with the promise of a…

Read more »

See all book reviews »