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NEWS | Feb. 7, 2014

BAMC team helps save Austin man's life

By Elaine Sanchez Elaine Sanchez

A specialized medical team from Brooke Army Medical Center at Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston teamed up with area hospitals recently in an overnight race to to save a man's life.

Using a heart-lung bypass machine called ECMO, the team stabilized and transported the patient from Austin to Houston, saving the patient's life and marking a first for BAMC.

"This is the first time we've done an adult ECMO transfer out in the community," said Lt. Col. (Dr.) Jeremy Cannon, San Antonio Military Medical Center trauma chief. "This is a true success story and a tremendous team effort."

Earlier this month, the patient suffered severe cardiac failure and was rushed to University Medical Center Brackenridge in Austin. With other interventions failing, his doctors felt this critically ill patient needed ECMO to survive.

ECMO, which stands for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, is a heart-lung bypass system that circulates blood through an external artificial lung, oxygenates it and then delivers it back into the bloodstream. It does the job of the patient's heart and lungs and gives them time to respond to treatments and heal, Cannon explained.

With their ECMO resources at capacity, UMC Brackenridge called on Cannon to transport the patient to the Center for Advanced Heart Failure at the Memorial Hermann Heart & Vascular Institute-Texas Medical Center in Houston on the evening of Jan. 5.

Established in October 2012, BAMC has the only adult ECMO center in the Department of Defense, and it remains one of the few centers with transport capability in the world.

Cannon swiftly assembled his team - which consisted of Lt. Col. (Dr.) Phillip Mason, emergency medicine and critical care physician, ECMO Program Manager Katherine Negaard and Bernadette Elliott, an Emergency Department nurse - gathered equipment and caught a chopper to Austin that night. Upon arrival, they placed the patient on ECMO and raced via ambulance to Memorial Hermann-Texas Medical Center, arriving in the early morning.

"We were able to successfully hand a stable patient off to the cardiology team in Houston," said Cannon, dubbing the trip an ECMO "taxi run."

The patient is still recovering, but doing well, a family member reported. She praised the BAMC team's professionalism and compassion, noting they were "engaged and responsive" to both the patient and his family members the entire time.

Cannon said he's thrilled to hear of the patient's "remarkable recovery."

"We're glad we could serve as a safety net for the community, particularly when it involves a lifesaving procedure."

Cannon said he hopes to continue this type of community support, noting it will help to keep the team's ECMO skills for combat casualty care, including transport ability, sharp.

"It's vitally important to maintain this capability both now and for the next time we go to war," he said. ECMO is a proven lifesaver for wounded service members, he added. In recent years, ECMO-trained teams have successfully transported 10 U.S. service members on extracorporeal support from the battlefield to Germany.

Cannon's long-term vision is to see ECMO patients transported from the battlefield to a stateside location, such as the medical center here, for their recovery.

In the meantime, Cannon is setting his sights on a more local type of support.

"We're hoping to perform more ECMO transports in the near future," he said.