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Last-resort treatment helped save Chandler father from COVID-19

(Ryan Parker Courtesy Photo)

PHOENIX — Nothing short of a miracle is how a Valley doctor described the recovery of a COVID-19 patient who spent more than four months in the hospital.

Ryan Parker, 39, got the coronavirus in July and started out with flu-like symptoms.

“It just escalated really quickly to the point where after five or six days, I started realizing that I had shortness of breath,” he told KTAR News 92.3 FM. “Just walking to the restroom and into the kitchen, I was losing my breath.”

His oxygen levels dropped significantly and he was put on a ventilator a few days after he was admitted into Dignity Health Chandler Regional Medical Center. When that didn’t work, doctors decided to put him on ECMO, which stands for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation.

It essentially works as an artificial lung. It removes blood from a patient’s body, pumps oxygen into the blood and pumps it back in, helping to relieve strain on damaged lungs.

The young and otherwise healthy father of two boys spent 84 days on the ECMO treatment at Dignity Health St. Joseph’s Hospital and Medical Center in Phoenix.

“It was a pretty bizarre feeling to wake up,” he said. “But I had lots of familiar faces around me when I woke up. My physician was there and set up a Zoom call with my family, so I got to see them and talk to them. That made me feel a lot better.”

Dr. Chirag Patel, thoracic surgeon at St. Joseph’s Norton Thoracic Institute, said the ECMO treatment saved Parker’s life. He added most patients don’t spend as long on ECMO as Parker.

“Most patients spend two-three weeks on ECMO,” Patel said. “Ryan’s case is unusual. This is the longest we’ve had from our experience at St. Joseph’s for somebody to be on ECMO and recover.”

ECMO has become a last-resort treatment used to treat the most severe COVID-19 patients who meet very strict criteria. Patients who are 65 years and older and those who are immunocompromised don’t qualify.

Patel said only about 20-30% of patients evaluated are put on ECMO.

The ECMO team at St. Joseph’s Hospital has had great success treating COVID-19 patients. Their discharge rate for these patients is well above the worldwide average rate of 51%, according to Dignity Health.

“Our survival rate to discharge a patient is about 71%,” Patel said. “That is really an attestation to the dedication that our team, our intensivist, our surgeons have to these patients.”

Parker was released from the hospital on Nov. 20. and doctors anticipate he’ll make a speedy recovery.

Parker said he now has “a whole new appreciation for the little things” and time spent with his family has become that much more important.

“I’ve always said that my faith and my family are the most important thing in my life, but they don’t always get the time that reflects that,” he said. “And so I’ve really been working on that being the focus.”

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