New treatment offers hope

Pictured are nursing staff and some patients whose lives were saved thanks to the ECMO team at GSH

John Flanigan, 72, wasn’t sure he would be around for his 50th wedding anniversary – or the birth of his grandson.

But a new treatment, introduced at Groote Schuur hospital two years ago, ensured that he did.

Last week the hospital marked the achievements they had reached since introducing the extra-corporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) therapy for patients with cardiac and respiratory ailments.

At the event, attended by nurses, clinical technologists and surviving patients, the nurses demonstrated how the therapy worked.

The Ecmo therapy is offered to patients when conventional ICU technologies cannot assist them.

Jennifer Abrahams, the operational manager of the cardiothoracic ICU and Ecmo therapy, explained how the process works. “Blood is taken out of the patient and put through an oxygenator before being returned to the patient. It is risky because the blood has to flow very fast, typically three to five litres a minute in an adult, with large cannulas (pipes) placed close to the heart and drugs administered continuously to thin the blood and prevent the circuit clotting.”

According to Groote Schuur Hospital spokesman Alaric Jacobs, the hospital had had “promising results” in the two years it had been offering Ecmo therapy.

“Of our first 10 patients, we have 100% survival of respiratory failure patients (the five) and 40% survival of in-patients requiring cardiovascular support (two patients). These results are better than the published international literature from high volume centres.”

As for his personal experience of the treatment, Mr Flanigan said it had changed his life.

“I was hoping to hang on to celebrate our 50th wedding anniversary and see my unborn grandson and thanks to you and the team this was achieved and I am able to lead a normal life again,” he said.

“Here’s hoping it continues. From me, my family and friends, I would like to thank you and the large team that assisted, and for giving me an extra lease on life. I treasure it every day.”