Arizona COVID-19 Patient Recovers After Receiving ECMO Treatment

When a ventilator wasn’t enough to help a coronavirus patient in the Valley struggling to breathe, doctors turned to a last resort treatment that saved his life.

Enes Dedic, 53, had been experiencing COVID-19 symptoms for several weeks after traveling overseas to visit family. He was first admitted to HonorHealth Deer Valley Medical Center on March 15.

Two days later, his health deteriorated rapidly, and he was transferred to HonorHealth John C. Lincoln Medical Center where he was put on a ventilator.

“This patient’s options were ECMO or death,” said Dr. Ace Ovil, a trauma surgery and critical care doctor for HonorHealth.

Ovil was describing the scenario he and other doctors were faced with after running out of options to save the patient’s life.

They were considering using a machine known as ECMO, which stands for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, that removes blood from a patient’s body. It then pumps oxygen into the blood and pumps it back in, helping to relieve strain on damaged lungs and heart.

“There wasn’t a lot of promising data that supported the use of this in COVID-19 patients,” Ovil said. “In fact, most of the data suggested it may be too risky of a proposition for COVID-19 patients.”

Dr. Robert Riley, chief of cardiothoracic surgery at HonorHealth, said they decided to move forward with it after all conventional therapies and treatments failed.

“When we initiated ECMO, the machine basically took over the function of the lungs,” he said. “It allowed us to use a gentler form of ventilation so that we did not cause any additional trauma to his lungs, and we could buy time to let his body recover.”

After 10 days on ECMO and being in a medically induced coma, Dedic woke up and was immediately responsive.

Dr. Anselmo Garcia, a pulmonologist and critical care physician at HonorHealth, said the 53-year-old has been off of ECMO for about a week and is breathing on his own.

“At this point now it’s his recovery, so he needs to have ongoing rehabilitation and therapy,” Garcia said. “And that will take him a while, but he’s certainly showing improvement day by day.”

Dedic is considered to be the first COVID-19 patient in Arizona – and also one of about 10 in the world – to survive after being treated with ECMO, according to HonorHealth doctors.

Dr. Riley said that’s encouraging news.

“We’re all looking for some good news in this crisis, and this is why we’re so excited about it,” he said. “Somebody who had no other options is surviving with maximum medical care is very exciting to us.”

Dedic’s wife, Olivera, said she’s thankful for the team of doctors who helped save her husband’s life.

“I’m so happy and relieved that my husband is a survivor,” she said. “But the last three weeks, four weeks it was painful, very painful.”

She said she hasn’t been able to visit her husband because the hospital isn’t allowing visitors. But she has been able to talk to him over the phone and see him through FaceTime.

“He was blowing kisses, he was giving me thumbs up, and he was waving to me,” she said. “I was so happy with that.”

She added when he gets home, she’s planning to celebrate “his new birthday – his new life.”

Click here to learn more about ECMO.


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