ECMO retrieval team saves Queensland woman Beryl Harradine’s life
Beryl Harradine was fighting for her life as her husband, Bob Harradine, and their daughter, Jo-ann Achilles, sat by her side. (Supplied: Bob Harradine)
Beryl Harradine was suffering from heart and lung problems so severe that she thought she may never see another Christmas.
Mrs Harradine, 67, was admitted to Queensland’s Hervey Bay Hospital with lung and heart complications including a severe case of pneumonia.
Doctors told Mrs Harradine’s husband, Bob, that she had a 50-50 chance of pulling through.
It quickly became clear to the doctors in Hervey Bay that more resources were needed and quickly.
A phone call was made to The Prince Charles Hospital in Brisbane and an ECMO retrieval team was in soon the air.
Mrs Harradine is now recovering at home, looking forward to her future and Christmas with her family (ABC Wide Bay: Jenae Jenkins)
ECMO, or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, provides prolonged cardiac and respiratory support to patients in a critical condition facing death.
In Queensland, ECMO retrieval means medical teams can fly to regional hospitals to emergency patients like Mrs Harradine, stabilise them, and then transfer them by air to the city.
Mrs Harradine’s ordeal marked the furthest journey the ECMO retrieval team from The Prince Charles Hospital had travelled to carry out the service, and Mrs Harradine was also their first ECMO aeromedical transfer.
A confronting situation
When the retrieval team arrived at Mrs Harradine’s hospital bed they found she had a congenital heart defect called Ebstein Anomaly.
This left a hole in her heart which caused extreme breathlessness and a failure of the right side of her heart.
“While they were treating me for the breathing, all of a sudden they saw this hole in the heart and they thought they will fix that,” Mrs Harradine said.
What is ECMO?
- ECMO stands for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation
- It is a life support machine that temporarily replaces the function of the heart and lungs
- The machine works by pumping blood from the patient’s body to an artificial lung that adds oxygen to it and removes carbon dioxide
- It then sends the blood back to the patient via a pump with the same force as the heart
- It is used to help people whose lungs cannot provide enough oxygen to the body, whose lungs cannot remove carbon dioxide, or whose heart cannot pump enough blood to the body
- The machine provides cardiac and respiratory support to patients while doctors work on treating their underlying disease or injury
Jayshree Lavana was one of the doctors involved in saving Mrs Harradine’s life.
She said the team extracted blood through large tubes inserted into Mrs Harradine’s groin which re-oxygenated the blood and removed carbon dioxide before the blood was pumped back into her body.
“That essentially supports the patient while the lungs recover,” Dr Lavana said.
The ECMO device enabled the retrieval team — made up of Dr Lavana and doctors Kiran Shekha, Maithri Siriwardena and Charles McDonald — to stabilise Mrs Harradine and fly her from Hervey Bay to Brisbane.
For Mrs Harradine’s husband it was a confronting situation.
“I had to be realistic about it. She was either going to come home standing up or in a box,” Mr Harradine said.
“If she didn’t have that there is no way she would have pulled through.
“You can’t praise those doctors enough — if I had a million bucks, I’d give it to them.”
The ECMO retrieval team from Brisbane’s The Prince Charles Hospital were able to save Mrs Harradine’s life. (Supplied: The Prince Charles Hospital)
Hope for more retrieval hubs
ECMO is becoming an increasingly popular treatment in Australia and Dr Shekhar, an intensive care specialist, knows how important it is for more ECMO retrieval hubs to be established around Queensland.
Dr Shekhar said the ECMO retrieval service and ECMO hubs such as that at The Prince Charles Hospital was the next layer in terms of ECMO.
There is hope that more locations will be opened across the state.
“It is the most powerful technique to keep someone alive for heart and lung functions,” Dr Shekhar said.
“You can easily have a person whose heart is failing rapidly in Hervey Bay, Bundaberg — wherever. Especially [as] Queensland is such a big state there is no way we can get there in time.
“Having systems like the retrieval system in place and also having ECMO centres to service the regions is important.”
The condition of the patient and location is the deciding factor of whether it is beneficial to send out the retrieval team and this in turn is ultimately the deciding factor between life and death.
Reliving the experience back in her Hervey Bay home, Mrs Harradine praised the doctors who saved her life.
“It got me home, that was the best thing about it,” she said.
“I’ll probably cry all Christmas day, thankful I’m seeing another Christmas and hopefully many more.”