The machine that saves babies' lives
Story by Maria Gallegos, BAMC Public Affairs
Published August 10, 2012
Courtesy photos from ECMO team
Brianna Sackreiter was the first ECMO patient treated at San Antonio Military Medical Center Feb. 11. ECMO is a life-saving device that mimics the natural function of the heart and lungs, allowing an infant or child to rest while natural healing of the affected organ takes place.
Brianna is now seven months old and recovering well in Seattle, Wash.
San Antonio Military Medical Center ECMO team.
The Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) machine continues to save lives after its integration from Wilford Hall Ambulatory Surgical Center to San Antonio Military Medical Center.
ECMO, a life-saving device, is very similar to a heart-lung bypass machine used for an open-heart surgery. It mimics the natural function of the heart and lungs, allowing an infant or child to rest while natural healing of the affected organ takes place.
It is commonly used for newborns and children suffering from respiratory and/or cardiac failure as a result of birth defects, trauma or severe infection.
Since 1985, the Wilford Hall has treated 191 ECMO patients with 79 transports with the support of the 59th Medical Wing personnel.
In December 2011, the ECMO program transferred to SAMMC due to the 2005 Base Realignment and Closure implementation and continues today with Army and Air Force personnel working together to provide the highest quality healthcare system.
SAMMC is the only Department of Defense facility that provides this type of medical procedure for infants with the 59th MDW providing world-wide air support for transporting patients from and to the medical centers.
"The ECMO transport function still remains with the 59th Medical Wing while the inpatient ECMO care is at SAMMC," explained Air Force Lt. Col. Michael Shoemaker, SAMMC neonatologist and ECMO director.
So far, one patient has been treated at SAMMC and another patient was transported from U.S. Naval Hospital-Okinawa in Japan to Stanford University Medical Center in California.
"No question about it, she would have died without it (ECMO)," said Shoemaker, as he explained the situation involving the first ECMO patient treated at SAMMC.
"Brianna was born on Jan. 13 in a Honduras hospital. Her mother is Honduran and her father is active duty stationed in Fort Lewis, Wash. She was born with undiagnosed ruptured omphalocele vs gastoshisis (abdominal wall defects where abdominal contents are out of the body)," he continued.
"She had some surgical repairs in Honduras but remained very ill and had developed a bloodstream infection. She was scheduled to be transferred from Honduras to Seattle Children's Hospital, however en route to Seattle, she developed a pneumothorax (collapsed lung) and hemothorax (collection of blood between the chest wall and the lungs), which caused the flight to divert to SAMMC on Feb. 8," he said.
He explained that without the use of the ECMO machine, Brianna had no chance of survival.
"Due to the bloodstream infection and her acute respiratory distress syndrome and her illness worsening, it was decided that she would surely die without ECMO. On Feb. 11, she was placed on ECMO and was taken off the machine on Feb. 18," he said.
On March 21, her health improved and was transferred to Madigan Army Medical Center.
"She had a very rocky post-ECMO course but did manage to improve enough to be transported to Madigan in March. Since then she has had definitive surgery on her bowel and is doing very well," he concluded.
Cheryl Collicott, senior ECMO coordinator since 1985, said she finds the job rewarding. "I love what I do. It's the feeling you get when you know you made a difference in someone's lives. The thanks and the hugs you receive from the families you helped in saving their baby's life is what keep us (team) going."
The ECMO program is a multi-disciplinary team of cardiac intensive care unit physicians, nurses, specially trained respiratory therapists and medical technicians who provide customized ECMO care for each child they treat. The program also supports the Graduate Medical Education in surgery, obstetrics, pediatrics and neonatology.