Victor Carlos, Marathon Runner with Flu, Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome Saved with ECMO

Victor Carlos, a 42-year-old marathon runner, was treated with ECMO for Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome (ARDS), which resulted as a complication of the flu in December 2012.

Victor Carlos arrived in the hospital with the flu with complications of an acute bacterial infection. Forced air and oxygen using a ventilator would actually damage Victor’s lungs, as he suffered from Acute Respiratory Distress Syndrome. His lungs failed from ARDS, which brought his blood oxygen level down to 57%. Healthy individuals are above 95%. His chance for survival dropped to 40% to 50% — tough for his family to endure with survival only possible with treatment using a procedure that would temporarily replace his lungs, a procedure known as ECMO.

Carlos was rescued using ECMO (Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation) which delivers oxygen to patients whose heart and lungs are so severely diseased or damaged that they can no longer function to deliver adequate oxygen levels to the body. Initial ECMO cannulation of a Carlos was performed by a surgeon and maintenance of the procedure was the responsibility of a Perfusionist or ECMO specialist, who is responsible for care and monitoring 24/7.

“Not only that, but he had multiple organ failure related to the infection. So his kidneys were not working. His liver was not working. And his bone marrow was failing as well.”

— Dr. Ashok Babu, a cardiothoracic surgeon at the University of Colorado Hospital

Doctors hoped Victor Carlos would only need to receive ECMO treatment for about one week. But he needed one month of ECMO treatment. Carlos didn’t take a single breath for as long as one month, while ECMO did all the work. His lungs failed and shrunk, as shown on x-ray. He had multiple organ failure that involved kidneys, liver and bone marrow.

The ECMO procedure withdraws blood from the body, sends the blood through a machine that oxygenates the blood and removes carbon dioxide. ECMO functions as an external lung. At four weeks, Victor Carlos broke a record. He was the person that “held his breath” the longest — a four week period. His lungs started to open and ventilate. He lost 30 pounds, but seven weeks after entering the hospital in an emergency, life-threatening situation, Victor Carlos got to go home.

In a six month period, Carlos gradually returned to long distance running. He was able to run three miles by May 2013. By October 11, 2013 he ran a full 26.2-mile training run.

He hopes to finish the Denver Rock ‘N Roll Marathon on October 20.

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