She was suffering from respiratory distress due to pneumonia
Cynthia Babu, 11, was hooked up to a machine in a hospital for six days. On the seventh day, for her folks and doctors, it was as if she was born again.
What started as symptoms of typhoid were soon to take on a deadly complexion in Cynthia. Her parents brought her from their home in Tiruvannamalai to a hospital in Chennai.
Cynthia walked into the hospital but soon turned drastically ill and had to be put on ventilator. She continued to sink and that is when she was referred her to Apollo Children’s Hospital, so that she could be put on a superior ventilator — High Frequency Oscillator.
But her pneumonia continued to progress rapidly and with acute respiratory distress syndrome it led to drastic drop in oxygen level. The liver was already showing signs of decreased function.
It was at this stage that paediatricians at the hospital decided to put her on the Extra Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) machine, to give her a final chance to recover.
Indira Jayakumar, senior consultant, Paediatric Intensive Care Unit, Apollo Children’s Hospital, said, “We would have lost her if we had not tried other techniques.” The cardiothoracic team hooked her up to the ECMO, monitoring the parameters.
The ECMO was invented primarily as a means of addressing heart and lung failure in children. “The ventilators were of no use to the child, so we put her on the ECMO, as it would rest her affected lung by taking over its function, giving it time to heal,” Paul Ramesh, ECMO coordinator, Apollo Hospitals, said at a press conference here on Wednesday.
She recovered well enough to be discharged home just a week after she was unhooked from the ECMO, on her 12 birthday (October 27).
“It is important to understand that the ECMO is only a support system, it is not a cure. By taking over lung function, it allows the organ to rest. Meanwhile, we have to target and cure the underlying disease,” said Dr. Jayakumar.
Suchitra Ranjit, senior consultant, PICU, said: “It is like the dialysis machine, it does pretty much the same thing. Takes the blood out of the body, purifies it and puts it back in.” While ECMOs are used commonly among children in the West, the practice is more recent in India, Dr. Jayakumar said, and even at that, only successful in maintaining children after cardiac surgeries.
Two cases of ARDS, as in the case of Cynthia, have been treated successfully at Siddhi Vinayak Hospital, Mumbai. Of the 13 patients supported with ECMO in Apollo Hospital, Chennai, only three were children, and Cynthia, the only successful case. This makes Cynthia the only successful case of using ECMO technology to save a patient suffering from respiratory distress in south India, the doctors claimed.