ECMO machine one of many new tools at expanded Seton



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Posted on September 10, 2013 at 9:00 PM

Updated Tuesday, Sep 10 at 9:00 PM

AUSTIN -- A massive renovation means a new era in healthcare at Seton Medical Center in Central Austin.

The city's largest hospital showcased the $48 million additions to the intensive care, intermediate care, and cardiology units Tuesday.

Some 60 new family-friendly rooms were added, and the technology was upgraded as well.

There's now a patient command center where nurses can monitor every patient and instantly respond if something is wrong. As part of that multimillion dollar expansion, Seton is getting an additional Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenator machine, or ECMO. That gives it three such life saving machines -- more than any other healthcare system in Central Texas. One patient says it's one of the main reasons she's alive today.

The ECMO device is keeping a patient and New Zeland native Eva Wolfe, 39, alive at Seton’s intensive care unit. 

“Being healthy all my life I always saw life support as something other sick people would require. Not me.  I'm healthy,” said Wolfe.

But back in January, like so many others, Wolfe came down with the flu. 

“And then suddenly the flu escalated into something my tiny little body couldn't cope with,” Wolfe said.

Severe progressive pneumonia overcame her lungs.

“It became apparent that if things continued that way she was not going to survive,” said Doctor Jordan Weingarten.

Doctor Weingarten is a pulmonary critical care specialist.  He's also the medical director for Seton’s ICU and ECMO  program.

“When the patient is sick enough to have a better survival rate with ECMO than standard care, then that's what you should use,” Weingarten added.

Doctors used an ECMO on Wolfe as soon as she arrived.  It takes blood out of the body at a rate of about a gallon a minute. That blood is run through an oxygenator which acts as an artificial lung. Then it's pumped back into the body. So in effect, the ECMO also serves as an artificial heart.

“This allows us to bypass and replace the function of a bad heart and bad lungs for as long as it takes for the heart and lungs to recover,” said Weingarten.

In Wolfe's case, that was for 10 days.

“I still to this day, 6 months later, I find the whole situation sort of surreal,” Wolfe said. “And it wasn't until I was home and Googled it all, and my mind was completely blown. I had no idea how close I was to meeting our maker. I am just so amazed and so grateful about that machine.”

Doctor Weingarten says the current size of Seton Medical Center’s ICU rooms often forces critical machinery like the ECMO to spill out into the hallway. But 12 new, larger, and family friendly rooms, have been added.

Reconstruction of the original 35 ICU rooms is slated to begin in January.