ECMO machine at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital treating the sickest of COVID-19 patients

ECMO machine at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital.png
Posted at 4:11 PM, Aug 06, 2021

NORFOLK, Va. - "It is devastating. You look into patients' eyes when they are dying, and all they want is to turn back time and get that shot, and it's too late," said Dr. Jessica Buchner, MD Critical Care Specialist at Sentara Norfolk General Hospital.

Dr.Buchner is currently one of many treating the sickest of COVID-19 patients at the hospital.

"The numbers are skyrocketing - not only the number with COVID, but the amount of ECMO devices I am having to use is going up and up," she said.

When the ventilator is not working, the team at SNGH goes for the last resort: The ECMO, or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, machine.

"I explain it to my patients as it's the most aggressive and highest level of life support we have," she said.

It is an invasive machine that bypasses the heart and lungs, allowing in these cases the lungs to recover from COVID-19, all while adding oxygen to the blood.

"We only want to use it when nothing else works," she said.

Dr. Buchner says the age of the patients currently on the machines with the virus is alarming.

"It has affected those unvaccinated, and the trend is we are seeing younger and younger people who need this machine. The average age is less than 40," she said.

The normal course of treatment on the ECMO to help heal the lungs is around 21 to 28 days.

"It aggressive, it's fast, and we can only help people we catch early," she said.

She says with more unvaccinated people coming in with COVID-19, the machine is in high demand.

"By the time I see patients, it's usually too late," Dr. Buchner said.

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