GREENVILLE N.C. (WNCT) – A new machine called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, is being credited for saving 12 lives since January at Vidant Medical Center.
The machine is an advanced form of life support that can pump a person’s blood and add oxygen to it, giving the heart and lungs a break in the case of an emergency.
“These machines are used in the patients with only the highest risk of death, and generally we calculate that to be over 80 percent,” said Dr. Nathaniel Poulin, the ECMO Adult Medical Director.
So far, 15 people, 8 children and 7 adults, have been placed on ECMO. The amount of time varied from patient to patient, with some staying on for as little as one day, and others as much as 21 days.
James Kleckley was placed on ECMO for 10 days. Kleckley, a professor at ECU, credits it for saving his life after he had complications from medications he received after an outpatient cataract surgery.
“My lungs shut down, my heart had to work overtime and so I was put on the ECMO machine to relieve both the heart and lung,” Kleckley said.
In all, he spent 32 days in the hospital and missed three months of work for a surgery that he went into thinking would be routine.
Getting ECMO to Vidant Medical Center has been a multi-year process. Betty Perry, the ECMO manager for the hospital, said staff had to train for almost a year before using it on actual patients.
“Going through emergency scenarios and patient management, along with priming the pump and things like that,” Perry said.
On Wednesday, Kleckley walked through the same rooms he spent clinging to his life in just a few months before. He also was reunited with some of the medical staff he said helped save his life.
“I get big smiles,” he said. “I don’t think you often find people going back and thanking the people that worked on them.”
Doctors said being able to see a patient that could be dead walk around makes their hard job worth it.
“It just makes all the training and so forth that we did go through just worth it, because without ECMO, they would not be here,” said Heidi White, ECMO Coordinator at Vidant.
Kleckley said the whole situation has made him see life very differently. He’s grateful to have more time to spend with his family, and is looking forward to another semester at ECU.
“Certainly gives me a new appreciation for life, of things can change on a dime, just immediately,” Kleckley said.
Doctors anticipate using the machine on more patients as flu season picks up.