Critically ill COVID-19 patients typically need machines like a medical ventilator to help them get through the symptoms of the novel coronavirus infection, which includes difficulty breathing due to severe pneumonia.
Nevertheless, some patients find it hard to still breathe normally despite medical experts attaching ventilators, such as the case of one man in Phoenix, Arizona.
When a Ventilator is Not Enough
In a report by CNN, doctors who are attending to Dr. Karl Viddal have already doubted that he was going to survive the viral infection, especially since the ventilator is not enough for his lungs despite it running on the highest setting.
Dr. Viddal considered himself as a healthy and active person even if he was missing a gall bladder, so it was a surprise when he was attacked by the novel coronavirus and had to be hospitalized for nearly two months with his life hanging by a thread.
They have also tried other methods that could most likely help in, including putting him on his stomach, which is a method known as prone positioning.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), prone positioning could help patients breathe much easier, and it has already helped several COVID-19 patients and to ensure their comfort and survival.
However, even this method did not work for Dr. Viddal.
In normal circumstances, people who are critically ill due to the coronavirus infection would have found comfort from ventilators and helped them breathe.
But since both of these methods did not work on him, his doctors decided to try a complicated technique, which is also not widely available in the United States.
They would have to use extracorporeal membrane oxygenation or ECMO machine.
What is ECMO Machine?
According to the news outlet, the ECMO machine is often referred to as "the highest form of life support" and works by using a pump that will help circulate a patient's blood through an artificial lung and provide it with oxygen while taking carbon dioxide from the cells.
Through an ECMO machine, a COVID-19 patient or anyone who is having difficulty breathing due to damaged lungs could provide them with enough oxygen, all the while allowing their lungs to rest and heal and go back to its proper function.
Nevertheless, it's an incredibly complicated method.
Using ECMO could increase the patient's risk of experiencing bleeding and getting blood clots, which is already common in many coronavirus patients.
Still, the machine is one of the last resorts doctors have when treating severe COVID-19 infections.
Dr. Ross Bremner from the St. Joseph's Hospital and Medical Center treated Dr. Viddal and said that if it wasn't for the ECMO machine, "he wouldn't be with us today."
Surviving COVID-19 Thanks to ECMO
The patient had to use the machine for 16 days, and even developed other complications, including the predicted blood clots and bleeding from his main airway.
"It was really a tough situation," Dr. Bremner said. "We know that, you know, about half of the patients who go on ECMO for COVID-19 don't survive, and he certainly had many brushes with death."
By the time he was taken off the machine, the doctor had lost 50 pounds and could barely move, but he was incredibly thankful that he could survive and go back to his family.
During this pandemic, more and more patients are being put under ECMO machines to help them survive the complications of the novel coronavirus infection.