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Shock trauma team describes how they helped save life of grandfather


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    BALTIMORE (WJZ) — As we look toward an end to the pandemic, millions around the world are still suffering from Covid-19.

On Monday, WJZ introduced you to a man from Baltimore who survived a severe case of the virus.

Now, we’re hearing from some of the team at the University of Maryland’s Shock Trauma who saved his life – and learning about the machine that helped them do it.

“I do believe, according to what I’ve been told, that I’ve defied a lot of odds. I’ll call it that,” survivor Darnell Davis told WJZ Investigator Mike Hellgren.

When Davis first got to Shock Trauma, COVID-19 already filled his lungs – covered in white on X-Rays.

Davis was unconscious and could no longer breathe on his own.

Doctors desperately needed time to save him, and their only hope was an advanced life support machine – extracorporeal membrane oxygenation – called ECMO for short.

Davis described it as “an emergency ‘break glass’ type of machine. “It’s the last thing. If I didn’t survive that, that was a wrap,” he said.

“ECMO absolutely saved his life,” said Shock Trauma’s Dr. Laura Buchanan, who helped treat Davis.

Davis was put on the machine within hours of arriving from Greater Baltimore Medical Center, which does not have ECMO.

“He arrived here very critically ill. He was on maximal ventilator settings on the breathing machine and was not able to get enough oxygen to maintain his organ function,” Buchanan said. “It is relatively rare for a patient’s disease to be so severe that they would benefit from ECMO but still have a chance of surviving.“

Buchanan said a little more than 100 Covid and non-Covid patients have used ECMO at Shock Trauma over the past year. It requires intensive supervision and training.

“The volume of patients needing ECMO went up dramatically with Covid, Buchanan said.

Worldwide, about 4 in 10 patients on ECMO do not survive. It requires the use of blood thinners that pose their own risks.

“In Darnell‘s case, that resulted in a very simple tube that had to be placed as a routine part of his care, leading to him needing a massive transfusion,” Buchanan said. “ECMO is very effective at what it does. It’s also a very invasive and severe therapy you cannot use indefinitely. You can use it as a bridge while somebody’s healing and recovering.”

After 17 days on the machine, some of them touch-and-go. Davis eventually was able to get off ECMO. About two weeks after that, he was able to go home. But he hasn’t forgotten how close he came to losing his life.

“Covid didn’t care. We were all in there dying. You were human and you were it,” Davis said.

Nurse Jessica Bradford cared for Davis.

“There were times when it was rather scary, and I was not sure which way his story would go,” Bradford said. “One of the very awesome things that stood out to me about Darnell was the fight that he had within him to beat Covid. ECMO allowed his lungs to rest and recover from the distress that Covid caused.“

She remembers heading in for her shift one day when he was headed out. Finally, discharged after more than a month.

“I told him way to go and he gave me a thumbs up. It was the Super Bowl of nursing. It was amazing,” Bradford said. “He was a win for Shock Trauma, and he was a win for the state of Maryland with Covid. Darnell lets us know that despite this pandemic and the ups and downs we’ve gone through in the past year, that we can win this battle. He won this battle.”

Davis is back home. He said he’s feeling great with no long-term side effects.

“I never saw the pearly gates, never saw the white light, never saw my life flash before my eyes. I knew I was going home,” he said. “There are people who had it less than me and are still having long-term issues. I am blessed.”

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