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Hyderabad: Covid patient recovers after 41 days on ECMO support; a ‘miracle’ even for doctors

"Patients on long ECMO support do not come out so easily. Though we hear of some reports from across the world, the overall per cent of recovery is very less," said Dr Ganshyam M Jagathkar, director, critical care at Medicover Hospital.

Written by Rahul V Pisharody | Hyderabad |
Updated: August 11, 2021 2:46:27 pm
The 36-year-old's husband, speaking to indianexpress.com, said she is now at a rehab facility for physiotherapy and should be back home in a couple of weeks.

On May 11, when Hyderabad was reeling under the second wave of Covid-19, a 36-year-old software engineer became critically ill after contracting the coronavirus. Her husband felt helpless as she was taken to hospital in an ambulance with her oxygen saturation levels dropping rapidly. Now, 90 days later, she has recovered fully and was discharged from the hospital on Tuesday. That she has come through 41 days on ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) support makes her recovery a ‘miracle’ even for doctors.

Due to Covid, her lungs had suffered almost 90 per cent damage and kidneys failed. “Patients on long ECMO support do not come out so easily. Though we hear of some reports from across the world, the overall per cent of recovery is very less. In Covid-19 related cases, we can say not more than 30 per cent recover,” Dr Ganshyam M Jagathkar, director, critical care at Medicover Hospital, told indianexpress.com

“For anyone who is on artificial support for a long time, a significant number of changes happen within the system. The body becomes weak, there is an increased risk of infection, there is a chance of other organ failures. The longer the patient stays, the higher the chances of complications and impact on the quality of life,” said the doctor who treated the woman.

The woman was breathless when brought to the hospital, the doctor said. After a couple of weeks of putting her on high-flow oxygen support and subsequently, on the ventilator, the oxygen levels were not showing any improvement and ECMO support was initiated. Even on ECMO, oxygen levels were not maintained and she was kept in a prone position to improve oxygenation. Over time, as doctors initiated attempts to take her off the support, her kidneys got affected requiring dialysis support.

“It was a stormy course. We kept on fighting, kept on supporting, believing that at some point, nature heals your injuries. I have to appreciate the patient’s husband’s resolve as he kept waiting for some development every day,” the doctor said, adding that they had already lost two patients after about 30 days of ECMO support.

The 36-year-old’s husband, speaking to indianexpress.com, said she is now at a rehab facility for physiotherapy and should be back home in a couple of weeks. Apart from his wife and himself, his mother and grandmother were also tested positive for Covid-19 in the first week of May. While all of them recovered in a week, his wife’s health kept worsening.

“Her condition was very critical. It was the last stage. If she had not recovered with ECMO, there was nothing else to do. I did not lose hope but I knew it was very serious,” he said.

The doctor said that he knew she was on a path to recovery only 48 hours after she was taken off ECMO. “It was very crucial 48 hours after we removed her from ECMO. She had to maintain the oxygen levels without ECMO support which she was dependent on for the last 41 days. Once we got past that, it was just a matter of time, we knew she would recover with support,” he said.

She was moved to the ventilator support and then tracheostomy and now oxygen support of 1 litre. Meanwhile, her kidneys also started to recover and she was taken off dialysis. “Her muscles have become weak and we have discharged her and sent her to undergo rehabilitation. I hope she comes out of the oxygen support in the coming days,” the doctor added.

“She does not remember this period when she was on ECMO as she was heavily sedated. It is ok if she does not remember. It does not matter now,” said the husband who spent most of this time outside the hospital. “Maybe, her age was on her side. I have only gratitude for the doctor, his team, and even the staff at the hospital for bringing back my wife,” he said. The couple has been married for four years.

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