A 26-YEAR-OLD Shenzhen woman who almost died of lung failure was saved by doctors at the University of Hong Kong-Shenzhen Hospital (HKU-SZH) as the new medical equipment called Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) was used in the hospital’s ICU department, according to a press release from the hospital yesterday.
The patient, identified as Fang, didn’t expect that a cold would send her to death’s door two months ago. Fang felt dizzy when she got up on the morning of April 10 and found that she had a fever, with her body temperature reaching 39 degrees Celsius. Her condition didn’t improve after three days of receiving an intravenous drip at a hospital near her home.
Fang visited HKU-SZH’s emergency department on the night of April 12 as she still didn’t feel well, and she was hospitalized after doctors reviewed her chest X-ray. She was then transferred to the hospital’s ICU on April 18, but her lung function only got worse a few days later as her lungs failed to supply enough oxygen for her body.
According to a doctor at the hospital, Fang was facing lung failure at the time and she would have died if the situation didn’t improve.
In a bid to buy more time for Fang’s treatment, the hospital utilized an ECMO machine from a brother hospital. ECMO is an extracorporeal technique for providing both cardiac and respiratory support for a patient whose heart and lungs are unable to provide an adequate amount of gas exchange to sustain life.
According to Dr. CK. Tong, head of the ICU department at HKU-SZH, the use of ECMO represents the level of critical care services of a hospital, a region or even a country. She said the clinical application of ECMO only has a short history, and hospitals in Hong Kong didn’t start using ECMO until five years ago.
Fang’s life was sustained by ECMO for the nine days between April 24 and May 2, which offered the doctors enough time to cure her lung infection. Three days after she stopped using ECMO, Fang could breathe without the aid of a breathing machine and her lung function recovered significantly.
“I didn’t wake up until May 2,” Fang said. “Doctors, nurses, my parents and even the cleaning lady in my ward all told me that I was saved from death, but I don’t remember anything.”
Fang was transferred from the ICU to a normal ward May 15 and discharged from the hospital May 26. She has returned to the hospital on a regular basis for rehabilitation exercises.
Fang said the doctors and nurses had taken good care of her in the ICU where over a dozen tubes were inserted into her body. “The nurses gave me a rubber yellow duck in case I needed anything. When I squeezed the duck, it made a sound and the nurses would come and check on me,” she said. “But most of the time I just wanted to chat with them because it’s a bit boring staying in the ICU.”
Although Fang is the first patient at HKU-SZH to be saved by doctors with an ECMO machine, Dr. Tong said that the doctors and nurses in the ICU department were previously trained in using ECMO, which ensured that the treatment went smoothly. According to her, the hospital is planning to purchase its own ECMO machines and provide more training to its medical workers.