Prolonged ECMO life support: Melbourne’s COVID-19 coma miracle
Posted On April 29, 2022
Doctors from The Alfred HospItal are pioneering an extreme form of prolonged life support to save COVID-19 patients from death.
Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, is the most extreme form of life support and is typically only considered for fewer than 10 days.
But Victorian specialists have stretched its use to up to 130 days, saving the lives of 50 COVID-19 patients.
For Truganina’s Stiven Taleski, ECMO saved his life.
The 33-year-old was sustained on ECMO for 84 days after his lungs disintegrated. Surgeons had to repeatedly drain his chest of blood clots due to severe COVID-19 complications.
“About day five, the nurse hit the emergency buzzer and all the doctors flew in in a panic,” he said.
“I remember my chest breathing with big apparatus and my chest was about to explode, it was so hard to breathe.”
The only option was the use of an ECMO machine.
The Alfred’s head of ECMO, Associate Professor Vincent Pellegrino, said it was lifesaving treatment.
“So the lung gets what’s called lung rest and the machine outside the body does the gas exchange,” he said.
Associate Professor Pellegrino said the same machine is used all over the world.
The process also requires patients to go into an induced coma.
“I thought… yeah, I’ll just go to sleep for a few days… it’ll be alright, it’s a nice rest and my chest needed a break,” Mr Taleski said.
84 days later, he woke up.
“Opening my eyes and the venue had changed,” Mr Taleski said.
“‘When the hell did that happen?’ That was my first reaction, then discovering it was a different year, it was just very scary.”
In all, 64 COVID-19 patients in Victoria have had the extreme form of prolonged life support, for an average of 41 days each.
Your COVID-19 questions answered
Medical professionals were divided over the use of the ECMO machine on COVID-19 patients.
Some of them were not convinced such a dangerous life support measure would work, but patients like Mr Taleski are thankful the hospital took the chance.
“I’ll forever be grateful,” he said.
“For them to keep me on and the nurses to look after me… day in, day out, 24 hours a day… for 84 days. I can’t thank that ICU department enough.”