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‘This is a meaner virus’ | Doctors at Ascension Seton talk ECMO, pregnancy risk with COVID-19 with Travis County Judge

One doctor said everyone being treated in the Ascension Seton ICU is unvaccinated, except one.

AUSTIN, Texas — Dr. John David Hinze at Ascension Seton Medical Center said using ECMO, or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, to treat COVID-19 can save lives, but the machine has "very limited capability."

Ascension Seton doctors have “decannulated” two patients with severe coronavirus cases off ECMO this week, according to Hinze. One patient was in her 20s, the other a teenager.  

Hinze and Maternal and Fetal Medicine Doctor at Ascension Seton Jeny Ghartey spoke with Travis County Judge Andy Brown about COVID-19 updates in the Austin area Friday. Both doctors emphasized the importance of getting vaccinated and told Brown what the situation inside their ICU looks like.

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“No one in our ICU is vaccinated except for one,” Hinze said. “He got COVID, thought he would go get the vaccine because it would help, and now he’s in the ICU on a ventilator.”

ECMO is a machine that draws blood out of a patient’s body, sends it through an artificial heart and lung and then pumps it back into the body warm. Hinze said it allows a patient’s lungs to rest.

Hinze said the age range for patients in the ICU at Ascension is 19-74. He said oftentimes being on a ventilator is not enough to keep a patient alive. That’s where ECMO comes in.


“It is hard to see unvaccinated patients in general, but especially young, healthy, otherwise healthy, pregnant women come in so, so incredibly sick,” Ghartey said. “And they need to immediately be placed on a ventilator and on ECMO by my colleague.”

Ghartey said all the pregnant women she’s seen hospitalized over the last few months are not vaccinated. The cases are so severe that Hinze said Ascension is considering only making ECMO available to pregnant women.

RELATED: APH recommending pregnant, breastfeeding women get the COVID-19 vaccine

“Our circuits are so limited that we’re really going to only offer it to young pregnant females so we can save two lives instead of one,” Hinze said.

Ghartey encourages pregnant and breastfeeding women to get the COVID-19 vaccine. Hinze even told Brown that Austin would “be having a regular summer” if there was a higher vaccination rate.

“You don’t want to go through what this one patient told me right before I intubated him,” Hinze said. "He says, ‘I’m terrified.’ You know how you keep from being terrified? You get the vaccine.”


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