Doctors Use ECMO Machine To Save Flu Patients

Doctors Use ECMO Machine To Save Flu Patients

CREATED Feb 24, 2014

by Shannon Royster

NASHVILLE, Tenn. – Flu season this year has been brutal. So far, more than 550 people have been hospitalized in Middle Tennessee with 22 flu-related deaths. Two of those deaths were children.

Now doctors at Monroe Carell Jr Children's Hospital are turning to a machine normally used to treat weakened lungs and hearts to keep the sickest flu patients alive.

It's called an ECMO machine or Extra Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation and very few hospitals around the country have it. With its support, patients with lung failure have about a 70 to 80 percent chance of survival.

Since December, six children with very severe lung disease were treated with ECMO at the Children's Hospital at Vanderbilt.

"Basically it involves removing blood from the patient and putting it through an artificial lung," Dr. John Pietsch, the surgical director of ECMO, said. "It involves adding oxygen, removing carbon dioxide and giving it back to the patient."

In January, nine-month-old Eli Herman was hooked up to a ventilator and later placed on ECMO for five days. Dr. Brian Bridges, the medical director of ECMO said Little Eli's lungs were extremely sick from H1N1.

"Because we started ECMO early in his course before the damage from the machines and from the virus had full effect, he did extremely well," said Bridges.

After spending 20 days in the hospital. Eli was well enough to go home. Even though the machine allows patients time to get better, Dr. Pietsch said your first line of defense should be the flu shot.

"It's not too late to get the vaccine," he said. "The vaccine works, and it's the best way to stay away from ECMO plus it's safe."

Doctors said if a child shows any flu-like symptoms, like difficulty breathing, drinking and eating or a persistent fever, contact their pediatrician. If the flu is diagnosed within the first 24 hours, often times a simple dose of TamiFlu can help prevent serious disease.

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