Special ambulance helps keep dying patients alive

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The Seton Healthcare Family is now operating a specially equipped ambulance that can transport patients dying at one hospital and bring them to Seton Medical Center, keeping them alive all the while. Called ECMO, the $250,000 unit includes advanced equipment and a specially trained team to recover patients from hospitals where nothing more can be done for them.

Since it was up and running a year ago ECMO has retrieved and saved 17 patients, including South Austin’s Sylvia Marmolejo. Sylvia’s health was failing at St. Davids South Austin Medical Center from a severe case of H1N1 flu last winter when they put in the call to ECMO. Dr. Jordan Weingarten, a pulmonary critical care specialist, heads the unit.

“She was on full life support when we got the call, getting everything that could be done and still she was dying,” he recalled. “She was so sick her heart actually stopped.”

Sylvia only remembers, “They went to so much trouble, they had so many precautions to take before they transferred me. It was amazing I was still alive.”

ECMO’s unit has equipment that can recirculate and re-oxygenate the blood, while keep up vital signs and failing organs. A fuller ECMO system awaits the patients when they reach Seton Medical Center. The transport will respond to any dying patient at any hospital within a 60 mile radius of Austin. It has been so successful they hope to add an airborne unit within a year.

“It wasn’t real; it still hasn’t really settled in,” Sylvia recalls with a smile. “I came that close to dying, and they were able to revive me.”

Weingarten thinks ECMO is worthy every penny.

“We’re pretty proud of the fact we’ve done as well as we have,” he said. “Sylvia is a great example of how this works, and we’re pretty happy with our investment.”

No doubt, Sylvia and 16 other patients heartily agree.

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