New UNM Hospital device increases chance of heart attack survival


ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (KRQE) – A new device being used at the University of New Mexico is already saving lives and being likened to a machine that can help bring people back from the dead.

The device is what doctors call a portable “ECMO machine” and the way UNMH doctors are using it is is a first for New Mexico.

ECMO, which stands for Extra Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation treatment, is a long-standing type of treatment at UNMH, designed to support or temporarily replace heart and lung function.

UNMH doctors are now using ECMO to treat some patients who are suffering cardiac arrest – the clinical term for a “heart attack.”

“It really is a machine that can bring people back from the dead,” said Dr. Jon Marinaro, Chief of Surgical Critical Care at UNMH, and director of the hospitals Adult ECMO program.

UNMH received the smaller, portable ECMO machine around September. The unit works to circulate blood through a person’s body when their heart or lungs don’t work. The machine uses pressure to suck blood out of the body, remove carbon dioxide and re-oxygenate the blood before looping it back into the patient’s body.

ECMO devices have been used to treat other health issues for years, including blood clots in the lungs (pulmonary embolisms).

However, UNMH’s new ECMO unit is the hospital’s first portable unit, and the first time they’ve been able to use it on some heart attack patients in New Mexico.

“It’s saving lives and more importantly it’s returning people to good neurologic outcomes,” said Dr. Marinaro.

By circulating freshly oxygenated blood through the body, a heart attack patient’s organs and brain have a better chance of staying alive.

“The faster we can get them on a device like this, the more brain we save,” said Dr. Marinaro. “We put them on this device and return circulation, and then give the body time to kind of mend itself, to get over the acute stress, for the cardiologists, or cardiac surgeons to take them to the cath-lab or the operating room to fix it.”

So far, UNMH says the portable ECMO device has already helped save the lives of two people who’ve had heart attacks, and three others who’ve had pulmonary embolisms. Those patients have gone to walk out of the hospital.

However, Dr. Marinaro cautions that the device cannot be used on every single patients who suffers a heart attack.

“It can’t bring everyone back from the dead, and we have certain parameters that we used, certain age limits, certain co-morbidities, if you have a lot of underlying medical problems,” said Dr. Marinaro. “This device is very hard on the body.”

He also stresses the importance of a good medical team.

“This device doesn’t save the people, the team of people around the device, the institution all working together,” said Dr. Marinaro.

Alongside doctors conducting CPR on heart attack patients, UNMH says the new portable ECMO device has upped the chance of surviving a heart attack for certain patients from about 7 percent nearly 30 percent.

“At the point most people would be saying that we’re going to stop (resuscitation), here at UNM, we’re saying we’re not stopping, we’re going to keep going and put them on heart lung bypass,” said Dr. Marinaro.

UNM’s main hospital in Albuquerque is the only one in New Mexico with the device so far. The hospital hopes the devices start showing up around the state soon.

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