‘ECMO saved my life’: ATV accident survivor credits DHR’s advanced life support

dfwnewsa | March 6, 2024 | 0 | East Texas News , South Texas News

‘ECMO saved my life’: ATV accident survivor credits DHR’s advanced life support
Jose Altamirano Brown gets emotional during DHR’s ECMO program’s one-year anniversary at the Edinburg Conference Center of Renaissance Wednesday, March 6, 2024, in Edinburg. Brown was cared for and was a patient when critically ill after an accident. He received the extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). (Delcia Lopez | dlopez@themonitor.com)
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EDINBURG — Tears streamed down his face as he spoke about an ATV accident that nearly killed him. Jose Eduardo Altamirano Brown’s mouth quivered as he thanked the DHR Health doctors and other healthcare staff who helped save his life with the use of the extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO program.

The 37-year-old Edcouch resident looked over at his near-7-month-old son with teary eyes Wednesday morning as he spoke about how the ECMO program allowed him to return to his wife and son.

Brown’s story wouldn’t have been possible, at least not locally, before 2023 because Rio Grande Valley hospitals didn’t have ECMO until just last year.

To celebrate that occasion, DHR on Wednesday held an event observing ECMO’s first-year anniversary at the hospital. The event was held at the Edinburg Conference Center at Renaissance where Brown and hospital staff joined to celebrate the occasion.

According to Dr. Andrew Phillips, who said he’s the founding ECMO medical director at DHR Health, DHR was the first to bring ECMO to the Valley.

Prior to the program’s establishment in the Valley, the closest facility that offered ECMO was in San Antonio.

Phillips argued that San Antonio is home to 2.6 million people, according to the 2020 census, and yet has three ECMO centers while the Valley, which is home to 1.4 million people, had none prior to last year.

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“The Valley should have this and they do now,” Phillips said, adding that it was a necessary resource that should be available not just in metropolitan areas.

For Phillips, who is from the Valley, it was important for him to bring back to his community what he learned throughout his studies at Standford, where he trained in emergency medicine and critical care.

He had grown up realizing that many people had to leave the Valley to receive certain treatments. But he wanted to change that.

“At that time especially there were a lot of services not available, a lot of patient care that was not here in the Valley … that has changed a lot,” Phillips said. “It was very important to me to do this right. To bring this (ECMO program) home.”

Dr. Andrew Phillips, left, introduces Jose Altamirano Brown, right, and his family during DHR’s ECMO program’s one-year anniversary at the Edinburg Conference Center of Renaissance Wednesday, March 6, 2024, in Edinburg. Brown was cared for and was a patient when critically ill after an accident. He received the extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). (Delcia Lopez | dlopez@themonitor.com)

He referred to their ECMO program as “comprehensive” and one that was “extraordinarily difficult” to implement. It requires input from all aspects of patient care.

Now, as of February 2023, DHR Health has an ECMO specialist in-house as well as physician consultations available 24/7.

“Anyone in the Valley who needs ECMO can get it right here,” Phillips said.

ECMO is a process in which blood is taken out of the body and run through an oxygenator while also removing carbon dioxide before returning it to the body.

Phillips described it as a long-term cardiopulmonary bypass, which in extreme cases involving patients anticipated of not surviving, ECMO can offer a 50% survival rate.

“It is one of those things … one of those last approaches … a hail mary if you will,” Phillips said, adding that ECMO is the most advanced form of life support available.

Since its implementation at DHR, they’ve had 12 patients receive ECMO care including one who just got placed on the program Tuesday.

“It’s why I came home,” Phillips said when asked how important it was for him to lead ECMO’s implementation in the Valley.

DHR celebrates the one-year anniversary of the ECMO Program at the Edinburg Conference Center of Renaissance Wednesday, March 6, 2024, in Edinburg. (Delcia Lopez| dlopez@themonitor.com)

In Brown’s case, he said he was on the brink of death after his accident, but was given a second chance thanks to the treatment.

An ATV had landed on top of his chest, causing his ribs to break and his lungs to collapse, preventing oxygen from properly circulating throughout his body.

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“I was more dead than alive,” Brown said, recalling that the accident occurred when his son was just 2 months old. “Because of the ECMO program and the people who work with it, I was able to survive my accident and everything that happened to me. My son wasn’t deprived of his father.”

With the help of the ECMO program, Brown was able to receive enough oxygen to his brain, allowing him to recuperate faster when he woke up.

His wife, April Lara, 38, recalled Brown being admitted at DHR Health in Edinburg on Oct. 4, 2023, and was there for more than a month before being released on Nov. 9.

“Relieved. Happy,” she said about her reaction to learning her husband would be OK, and was holding their child at the time.

“ECMO saved my life,” Brown said as he looked over at his son, Jose Jr. “Now I’m here to be with him for the rest of his life because of ECMO.”

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