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Pregnant Women Find Lifeline in Upland with ECMO Machine Procedure

 Saturday, August 2, 2014 The Press Enterprise

women holding infantsTwo expectant mothers were at death’s door when doctors decided to place them on a heart-lung machine. The decision saved their lives and those of their unborn children. Ashley Hinds and Shelly Anthony will forever be linked by a piece of medical machinery that saved both of their lives, as well as those of their unborn children. Hinds, 34, of Eastvale, and Anthony, 41, of Rialto, were hooked up to an ECMO machine when each were on the brink of death at San Antonio Community Hospital in Upland.

ECMO stands for Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation. “It is essentially a machine that is able to do the job of the heart and the lungs,” said Dr. Hossein Shayan, a cardiothoracic surgeon. “It’s able to oxygenate the patient’s blood and effectively circulate it around the body. But all of that happens outside the patient’s body. So we have to take the blood out, oxygenate it and put it back in using this machine.” The device can be used on a failing heart or lung. In the cases of Hinds and Anthony, their lungs were failing as they battled complications from the flu.

ECMO is not a new technology, but only in the past 5 to 10 years has it been used on adults for lung infections. Hinds and Anthony had most likely contracted the H1N1 virus, also known as swine flu, which developed into viral pneumonia. “I was coughing so bad,” Anthony said. “I felt like I couldn’t catch my breath. It was a horrible feeling.” She was coughing so much, she pulled a muscle. Doctors decided to use the ECMO on the women because they had tried everything else and nothing was working. They weren’t getting better.

“Hers was definitely emergency ECMO – like, we need to get her on it now,” Anthony’s husband, Ken, said. “Her oxygen levels had dropped really, really low.” At one point, Ken Anthony was told to go to the lobby while doctors and nurses intubated and put his wife to sleep. “Within a few minutes, they were back up. They’re going, ‘You need to come back here,’” he said. “When I actually came back in, it was literally like a scene from ‘ER.’ There was people running around, yelling and screaming, ‘Get this. Get that.’ Techs running back and forth.” He was introduced to Shayan, who told him they wanted to put her on the ECMO. “It was just really overwhelming and very surreal,” Ken Anthony said. “You just can’t believe that it’s happening because it just doesn’t seem real.”

San Antonio Community Hospital says it is unique to have a doctor on staff – in this case Shayan – who is trained to use the machine on adults. ECMO is typically used on premature babies. And it’s rarely used on pregnant women. “There are less than 100 cases worldwide reported, ever,” Shayan said.