SAN ANTONIO – Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation or ECMO has recently received a lot of attention as a treatment for COVID-19 patients. The medical procedure is being used as an alternative to putting someone on a ventilator in some hospitals.
In San Antonio, Methodist Healthcare System has one of the largest ECMO programs. It was recently highlighted in a CNN story.
Dr. Robert Frolichstein, an emergency room doctor with Methodist Hospital, said although he does not work in the intensive care unit, he is aware of the “amazing things” doctors are doing at Methodist.
“It’s (ECMO) a system where blood is taken out of your body, put through a device that oxygenates it and then returns it to your body,” Frolichstein said. The procedure bypasses “your lungs and provides oxygen to your bloodstream that your lungs are not able to provide because they’re so sick,” according to Frolichstein. The procedure’s goal it to prevent the patient from being placed on a ventilator.
A ventilator is believed to cause more harm than good in a patient fighting COVID-19 because the virus is known to attack the lungs. A Methodist Hospital doctor on the front lines told CNN that he believes the ventilator can lead to more complications in COVID-19 patients.
“I think the ventilator really causes a lot of harm. It causes harm in general but certainly causes harm when we’re talking about patients with COVID. Because their lungs are so weak and probably because there are other reasons patients are having trouble,” Dr. Jeffrey Dellavolpe said.
Allen Harrison, the CEO of Methodist Healthcare, said during a recent city and county briefing that ECMO is a complicated procedure.
“It’s a last resort, not appropriate for everybody. It’s extraordinarily complicated. It’s a very difficult course of treatment. But in some cases, with people who fit the appropriate profile, it can be lifesaving,” Harrison said.