Covid patients’ lives being saved by ECMO

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Covid patients’ lives being saved by ECMO

A stunning treatment that is “hard to come to terms with” and involves an “unbelievable” machine is saving Covid patients’ lives.

A patient and his doctor have lifted the lid on an extraordinary method for treating serious cases of Covid that involves people being put into a coma for as long as 130 days.

Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) is a life support machine often used for people suffering severe and life-threatening illnesses.

ECMO replaces the function of the heart and lungs to allow those organs to rest and heal.

Connected to a patient by tubes, it acts as an artificial lung with blood being pumped out of the body into the machine where carbon dioxide is removed before the blood is sent back.

Patients using ECMO for respiratory support are typically in a coma for 10-20 days, but that all changed when Victorian specialists used it as a way to treat severe Covid cases.

Sixty-four patients with Covid were on the machine during the virus’ two waves throughout the state.

They spent an average of 41 days on support, with about 83 per cent surviving.

The Alfred Hospital’s head of ECMO, Associate Professor Vincent Pellegrino, explained to 3AW on Friday that the increase in the time spent in a coma was due to the “game-changing” and “onerous nature” of Covid.

“Their lungs were in such a state (that) in order to get enough gas exchange to keep them alive we were using completely unsafe pressures to do that in the lungs,” he said.

Stiven Taleski, 33, was one of those patients. He spent 84 days in a coma before waking up in January.

When he woke up, he was in a “daze” and did not know where he was or what was happening.

“I thought it was probably about five days, but I was three or four months off and I was in a different year,” he said.

“It was very hard to come to terms with at the start.”

Since waking up Mr Taleski is feeling better and more active every day.

He hopes to return to work at some point, though his lung capacity is “still quite low”.

“I’m kind of glad I was pretty much asleep through the entire thing, it sounds quite scary,” Mr Taleski said.

“It’s saved my life – unbelievable piece of machinery.”

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