'Miracle man' benefitted from rare procedure

June 22, 2009 12:46:09 PM PDT
Two patients struggling for survival got a procedure that's usually reserved for babies. Their doctors said they're now "miracle patients." "It was a really bad virus that shut down my body," said one of the patients, Darren Pangle.

Professional trainer Darren Pangle was no match for the virus that hit him this spring. It evolved into pneumonia and shut his lungs down.

"He was a couple hours from death. In fact when he got here, he almost passed away," said Cardiologist Dr. Pranav Loyalka.

He was transferred to St. Luke's for an unusual treatment called ECMO.

"St. Luke's is the only hospital in this area that did ECMO for adults and without it, I wouldn't be here," said Pangle.

Sarah Murphy, 20, nearly died after delivering her baby girl, Celia. Doctors gave her three hours of CPR. When her heart was started again, she was transferred to St. Luke's where she received ECMO.

"We didn't know what it was. It was a last resort for her and it gave her body time to rest because the machines did everything for her. They ran her heart and they ran her lungs," said Murphy's mother, Kim McKinney.

ECMO works like an artificial heart and artificial lungs, beating and breathing for a patient so their organs can rest. All the blood in the patient's body is run through the machine.

It's used to save the lives of premature babies, but it's rarely used on critically ill adults in the U.S., until recently at St. Luke's.

They've used ECMO on about 50 patients like Murphy. All of them were basically dead, and they saved about half of them.

It works for reversible lung problems and technology is making it easier and safer for patients, who then wake up after two to three weeks on ECMO, realizing they have truly been given a second chance.

"I feel so blessed to be here and raise my baby, it's just a miracle. Every day I wake up and thank god for giving me so many miracles," said Murphy.

ECMO used to be a surgical procedure, but now it's done at the bedside. Technology will soon shrink the machinery to the size of a basketball and that may allow many more people access to the life-saving treatment.

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Christi Myers is ABC13's Healthcheck reporter

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