21-year-old man gets second chance at life after undergoing unique procedure at BAMC

SAN ANTONIO – A one-of-a-kind team at Brooke Army Medical Center is giving 21-year-old SaDonte’ Hunt a second chance at life.

“I'm definitely here for a reason. I’m happy to be going home," Hunt said.

Hunt was diagnosed with valley fever, a fungal infection that attacks the lungs, in May. He was in El Paso at the time and slipped into a coma at a hospital

The prognosis was bleak and his future was in doubt. That’s when doctors reached out to the staff at the Brooke Army Medical Center’s extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, center.

ECMO is a technique of providing cardiac and respiratory support to those with compromised heart and lungs.

“ECMO is what we would consider a rescue therapy, meaning all of the standard therapies advanced ventilator management. Certain medications, certain inhaled gases, have all been tried and found to be unsuccessful,” said Col. Phillip Mason, emergency medical director of Adult ECMO.

Mason said it is important to note that the ECMO doesn’t treat anything, but it replaces the natural functions of the heart and lungs while treatments and natural healing take place.

“Painful. It scarred me up, but I needed that to survive,"  Hunt said.

Mason explained how the ECMO works.

“We generally need two large tubes — we call them cannulas — that are placed into large blood vessels, and the ends of those tubes are placed near the heart. That’s where we can most effectively drain blood,” Mason said. "Then those large tubes are attached to the machine. There is a pump that pulls blood from the patient, pushes it through an artificial lung and then returns it to the patient."

Mason said the average amount of time someone is on the ECMO is 10 to 12 days. Hunt was on it for more than 90.

When it comes to recovery, Mason said, there’s no set time. His team’s approach is to continue treating the patient until there’s definitive evidence the lungs won’t recover.

In Hunt’s case, patience paid off.

Hunt, an aspiring singer and and rapper, has now been discharged from the hospital, and while the road to recovery is long, he can resume his young life and pursue his dreams.