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Stretcher delivers life to critical patients
Linette Ho begins her second year of studying commerce at the University of British Columbia this week. Just over a year ago she was fighting for her life. Her lungs were sick with pneumonia. Her heart stopped twice.
But a specialized piece of equipment developed and jury-rigged by a team from the cardiac unit at Royal Columbian Hospital was able to keep the critically ill Ho alive as she was transported to RCH for intensive care.
Now the mobile Extracorpreal Life Support system is going into production and the RCH Foundation is looking to raise the $41,000 needed to add the modified portable heart-lung machine to the hospital’s life-saving arsenal.
Ho, 19, was cramming for her last round of exams at Moscrop secondary school when she collapsed from exhaustion. She was taken to Burnaby Hospital where her lungs collapsed. As her condition worsened, doctors there decided she needed to be transferred to RCH for special cardiac care. But she was so sick, she was unlikely to survive the trip.
That dilemma had vexed the cardiac team at RCH for years. As the primary cardiac care hospital in the Fraser Health region, they have all the tools and expertise on hand to treat gravely ill heart patients. But first they have to reach the hospital still alive.
A team led by chief perfusionist Dustin Spratt, a former paramedic, and cardiac surgeon Dr. Derek Gunning adapted the components of a portable heart-lung machine to attach them to a gurney that could be wheeled into and out of a standard ambulance.
If the patients couldn’t get to them, they’d just go get the patient.
“We felt we had to be able to respond whenever calls come in,” said Spratt.
The gurney and a medical team are always on call, ready to respond at a moment’s notice.
The unit is deployed about 10 times a year, usually for young patients whose heart and lungs have been compromised by serious viral pneumonia.
“Without it, patients are deteriorating and they die,” said Dr. Gunning.
But the improvised unit is still too large and cumbersome to fit into air ambulances, limiting the range it can be used to save patients. So the cardiac team worked with stretcher manufacturer Ferno for 18 months to develop a prototype of lightweight aircraft-grade aluminum that will slide into helicopters and planes as well as ambulances. The stretcher can also be easily modified as the heart-lung machine technology evolves.
Three of the four prototypes that have been built are already spoken for, two of them acquired by hospitals in the United States. Barbara Becker, the director of major gifts for the RCH Foundation is hopeful donations will allow them to secure the fourth.
“For specialized and innovative equipment like this, we go to our donors,” said Becker.
Ho knows such a stretcher would be invaluable; after all, she owes her life to it.
She spent five weeks in hospital then much of the past year regaining her strength as she completed her first year of studies at UBC.
“I feel healthier than ever,” said Ho.To learn more about the Extracorpreal Life Support team and how to help go to ww.rchcares.com