A 46-year-old doctor who was critically ill made startling recovery



I wish more people with severe covid-19 pneumonia could get ECMO coz it really makes a difference especially if you’re in a center that does a lot of them, and they’ve got the whole system protocolized from start to finish. Based on my experience with cystic fibrosis and pulmonary fibrosis patients awaiting double lung transplant, I saw a significant survival benefit (compared to only ventilator support). Therefore, I don’t see why it wouldn’t work with covid-19 pneumonia—it’s the same principle.

Since few are aware of this therapy, there’s no political pressure to make it widely available. However, if the pandemic continues like this, we might start seeing people demanding it for their family members.

This doctor is privileged because his colleagues couldn’t let one of their own (with a young family to boot!) pass away without doing everything within their power to save his life.
I believe even the most critically ill can be saved, but it’s too expensive and requires lots of experienced medical personnel to make it happen. Therefore majority of sick people with covid are simply put on the vent and when they get worse, it’s bye-bye.

Phil McCausland
NBC NewsMay 16, 2020, 4:37 PM EDT
A 46-year-old physician in Arizona with no prior health issues contracted the coronavirus and was so ill that his doctors feared he would die. But Karl Viddal ended his nearly two-month hospital stay on Friday after being put on a life-support machine that is not widely available.

His treatment illustrates how hospitals around the country are using a variety of methods to treat severely ill COVID-19 patients.

The Phoenix-area physician came down with flu-like symptoms soon after returning from a trip abroad in March, according to an account of his illness and recovery by the Dignity Health hospital system. As he began to feel worse and had trouble breathing, the father of three young children was admitted to a hospital in Gilbert, Arizona, on March 22.

That began a fight for his life that included 28 days in a medically induced coma, 34 days on a ventilator and a total of 55 days in the hospital. The disease caused a life-threatening pneumonia.

Viddal's condition steadily worsened, and he had to go on a ventilator at Dignity Health Mercy Gilbert Medical Center to keep him alive. With options dwindling and his doctors fearing he may not survive, Viddal was moved to another hospital, Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center, to try a measure of last resort.
The treatment, known as extracorporeal membrane oxygenation or ECMO, is a form of life support that essentially takes the place of the heart and lungs, according to the American Thoracic Society. The machine connects to the veins and arteries in a patient's legs, neck or chest via a series of plastic tubes. The person's blood then flows through the ECMO system, which adds oxygen and removes carbon dioxide, before returning to the person's body.

The machine is only used after a person has been on a ventilator, and it carries a risk of kidney failure, stroke, internal bleeding or other life-threatening conditions.

Only a limited number of hospitals have an ECMO program. Viddal was the 32nd patient in the United States and the second in Arizona to be placed on this type of therapy for COVID-19, according to Dignity Health.

The life support system is also not a cure for the virus and far from a sure thing.
The medical director of the ECMO program at St. Joseph's said it's a highly specialized treatment that is only used after all other conventional treatments fail. In Viddal's case, it allowed doctors to give his lungs a rest.
Viddal also didn't only undergo ECMO. His doctors put him through multiple other prolonged treatments. He may be one of the most critically-ill patients in the U.S. to recover from COVID-19, the hospital system said.

Like other patients who have been on such life-support systems, Viddal underwent therapy for rehabilitation after he was off the machines.

On Friday, he had enough strength and balance to walk again and to return home.

“It was hard comprehending what happened to me when I became conscious. I woke up and I was paralyzed, unable to speak,” Viddal said. "This virus nearly ended my life.”