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March 13, 2013
How heart-lung-assist system helps desperately ill patients recover
A viral infection was causing life-threatening heart failure in Michelle Rivera, a patient at Loyola University Medical Center in Maywood, Ill.
Because Rivera’s weakened heart was pumping so little blood, her lungs were filling with fluid and her liver, kidneys and other organs were shutting down.
But a new state-of-the art life support system called Cardiohelp® saved Rivera’s life. The system bought enough time for her heart to recover: It assisted the heart by pumping blood to an oxygenator (artificial lung), which added oxygen to the blood and removed carbon dioxide.
During the five days Rivera was on the machine, her heart and lungs were able to rest and recover from the infection, called viral myocarditis. Without the support, Rivera almost certainly would have died, said Loyola heart failure specialist Alain Heroux, MD. “It was her only option,” Dr. Heroux said. “Medication was not enough."
Rivera, 42, of Norridge, Ill., is expected to make a full recovery. She feels she was very unlucky to get the infection but extremely fortunate to receive the life-saving treatment. “It’s like finding a four-leaf clover after being struck by lightning,” she said.
The system is known as extracorporeal life support (ECLS) or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). Loyola has used the system on more than a dozen seriously ill patients so far, said chief perfusionist David Kouri.
Cardiothoracic surgeon Jeffrey Schwartz, MD, said the system is a last-line therapy to sustain life. “We have had some pretty remarkable outcomes,” he said.
For example, Andrew Berryman, 19, was transferred to Loyola after suffering a severe allergic reaction to anesthesia during a tonsillectomy at another hospital. At one point it appeared Berryman would need a heart transplant – if he even survived. But after he was put on the machine, his heart made a remarkable recovery. The Elmhurst, Ill., resident and college sophomore has made a nearly complete recovery from his strokes. He was among the patients honored at Loyola’s recent Rehab Patient of the Year Celebration.
Dr. Heroux said the system involves a multidisciplinary team including cardiologists, surgeons, critical care physicians, electrophysiologists, anesthesiologists, perfusionists and nurses.
Kouri said the system can be used to buy time to recover in scenarios such as these:
- A patient is unable to come off a heart-lung machine following surgery
- A patient is waiting for a lung transplant
- A patient has experienced cardiogenic shock from a viral infection, heart attack, etc.
- A patient is suffering lung failure due to a severe case of the flu