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National Doctors’ Day: Green Country physicians treating COVID patients with ECMO

N.Y. bill extends medical malpractice deadline
Posted at 4:46 PM, Mar 29, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-31 08:30:53-04

TULSA, Okla. — In celebration of National Doctors’ Day, Green Country is home to some of the nation's best physicians.

When it comes to top-of-the-line treatments, the Oklahoma Heart Institute is becoming known for its life-saving measures by providing a machine used in only three centers in the state.

"So, it's a pretty rare thing,” Dr. Adam Betz, medical director of pulmonary ECMO at the Oklahoma Heart Institute, said.

That rare thing is a machine providing hope for COVID-19 patients. But at the height of the pandemic, a waitlist for it is growing as Oklahomans battling the coronavirus looked to technology to increase their chance of survival.

For physicians like Dr. Betz, it was daunting, especially in January.

"When you checked in on that waitlist every day, you were finding how many of them hadn't survived the night while waiting for a spot,” Dr. Betz said.

Those patients were waiting for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, only offered in three centers across the state. One of them is in Tulsa at the Oklahoma Heart Institute.

"It was a very disheartening time to be doing it because what you wanted to do was offer it to everybody, but there literally was not the machines and resources available to do that,” Dr. Betz said.

The machine functions as an artificial heart, lung, or both.

"It takes through a situation that typically they would not otherwise survive, and lets them rest on the ECMO machine,” he said. “It allows either their heart or lungs to recover."

Cue the pandemic and the institute said a majority of its ECMO patients were COVID-related.

"Eighty-eight cases last year, and I want to say a little over 50 of those were COVID,” Dr. Betz said.

The chances of survival for a patient on ECMO are thought to increase dramatically.

"To go on ECMO, let us say for COVID, you have a patient who is extremely ill, and we estimate their chance of survival at less than 10 percent,” Dr. Betz explained.

Health experts believe by going on ECMO, the patient's chance of survival could go up by 50 to 70 percent.

Data suggests those who had the flu and underwent the treatment are unlikely to have severe disability six months later. The effects of COVID patients are still being looked at but hold promise.

"We ran the first COVID ECMO in the state in our institution, and then we actually had the second… that patient ended up becoming the second person to leave the hospital after going on ECMO for COVID in the nation,” Dr. Betz said.

The institute is working together as a team, creating the building blocks for the future of ECMO treatments for COVID patients and beyond.

As the number of COVID patients goes down, physicians said there is no longer a waitlist for this potentially life-saving treatment.

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