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Survived after Staying on ECMO for 46 Days and Lung Transplantation
Date:2019.06.27 10:54:00

Mr. DING has never felt health is so important until 2 stranger lungs were transplanted into his body.

It’s been over a year since then, but every moment is still so vivid that both of his doctors, Dr. HUANG Man, the chair of ICU at Binjiang Campus of SAHZU, and Dr. WU Ming, the acting chair of Thoracic Surgery of SAHZU, still remember every minute in that fight for Mr. DING’s life.

It was the second day after the Chinese New Year Eve in 2018 when Mr. DING arrived at the emergency. He was transferred from another hospital with a body temperature of 41, short breath, cyanosis and a very low blood oxygen saturation level. Emergency immediately did tracheotomy and put him on a respiratory machine then transferred him to the ICU. As soon as Dr. HUANG checked Mr. DING’s condition, she decided that Mr. DING needed extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) which is an extracorporeal life support technique to help patients whose heart and lungs are unable to function. If the patient needs ECMO, he can surely have ECMO. By 7pm on the same day, Mr. DING was connected to the ECMO machine. His condition was temporarily relieved and he was diagnosed with H1N1 Flu whose virus caused fever and subsequent lung infection which leads to lung failure. 


However, Mr. DING started to have pulmonary fibrosis after 15 days on ECMO, making it even harder for him to breath. Signs of multiple organ failure were showing which would soon take his life. After consultation with Dr. WU Ming, both doctors decided that the only way to save Mr. DING’s life was to give him a new pair of lungs. Patient and patient’s wife agreed to lung transplantation. But until donor lungs shew up, Mr. DING’s life totally relied on ECMO. At last, Mr. DING survived on it for 46 straight days, being a miracle and having the honor of being the patient longest maintained on ECMO at SAHZU.

To live on ECMO machines is extremely difficult for both patients and doctors. “In Mr. DING’s case, the biggest threat to him is infection”, said Dr. HUANG. “Mr. DING is very weak. The longer he lingers on, the more medication he uses, the worse immune system he is going to have. All those elements add up, there was a real possibility that he would have severe infection. Besides, those ECMO machines and respiratory machines are connected to human body with tubes which could easily cause infection too.”

Luckily, a special lung transplantation team has been set up before to cope with this kind of condition. Mr. DING thus had his own unit, own charge doctor and own nurses to take care of him during the whole process. This team has a lot of daily work. They had to monitor the patient’s condition, check his vital signs and run routine lab tests so as to adjust the medication dose and types. They had to scrub and clean Mr. DING’s body with disinfectant to eliminate the hidden danger of infection. Although it doesn’t sound a big matter, but when it comes to a critically ill patient who is planted with so many tubes that you have to carefully avoid while making sure that every inch of skin has been cleaned, it really is not easy at all. Especially the catheter connecting Mr. DING’s body and the ECMO machine is as wide as a pen. Any slightest movement of that tube could affect patient’s blood circulation and lead to coagulation or damage to the machine filter. So, when cleaning, patients have to be perfectly still and doctors and nurses have to be very careful. And this kind of cleaning job has to be done every day. 

ECMO Machine

Except infection, the other big challenge for patient and patient family is to have hope all the time. By day 30 on ECMO, Mr. DING almost lost his hope. “He didn’t respond to us at all at that time,” said Dr. HUANG, “So you have to be more careful with the patient. There is no room for any mistake.” But Mr. DING’s wife said to her: “Not matter what happens in future, I truly feel grateful for everything you have done.” At that moment, Dr. HUANG said she felt the trust the patient family put on her.

Finally, on Apr. 2 2018, after 46 days on ECMO, compatible donor lungs shew up. Emergent lung transplantation surgery was quickly arranged by Dr. WU Ming for Mr. DING. After 6 hours, a new and healthy pair of lungs were transplanted into Mr. DING’s body. 

Lung Transplantation Surgery by Dr. WU Ming, Acting Chair of Thoracic Surgery

Day 2 after the transplantation, ECMO machine was disconnected from Mr. DING’s body.

Day 3, respiratory machine was disconnected and Mr. DING was able to sit up on bed.

Day 5, chest tube was pulled out and Mr. DING could walk around with physical therapist’s help.

Day 15, Mr. DING’s condition was quite stable and transferred to Thoracic Surgery for further rehabilitation.

In the end, on the 75th Day after the hospital admission, Mr. DING was discharged from SAHZU. He can live a normal life again.

Now, one year after this very special experience, Mr. DING became a totally different person. He quit smoking and work out every day at home, because no one understands the value of life more than he does. 

Mr. DING (middle) presenting a thank you banner to Dr. HUANG (right) before leaving the hospital