ECMO treatment at UCSF Fresno saves COVID patient's life

'They saved my life. They brought me back to my family.'
FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- COVID knocked Mustafa Mitchell out, but the 32-year-old had a lot of help in his corner.

Mitchell's wife kept vigil over him every day, even when she could only get there via technology.

"It was heartbreaking because there was nothing I could do. I couldn't go to his face and rub him and tell him 'Mustafa, we're here. You got to fight through this.' All I could tell him through a screen. Literally what everyone says, through an iPad," says Crystal Mitchell.

His COVID case had escalated quickly.

A slight fever jumped to 106, so he went to Clovis Community before Christmas.

Doctors transferred him to Community Regional Medical Center while pneumonia took away his lung capacity.

"I ended up coding because of it. I went on ECMO twice. I didn't really realize what ECMO was until I started looking into it and Community saved me. They saved my life. They brought me back to my family," Mustafa says.

ECMO is extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, a form of life support that's become more important during the COVID pandemic.

"The easiest way people can understand it is, it's similar to a dialysis machine for the kidneys. But in this fashion, it's an artificial lung. It breathes for you. It filters, oxygenates your blood, and then it returns it into your throat," Mustafa says.

UCSF Fresno has the Valley's only ECMO for adults and Mitchell is one of the rare patients to use it twice.

His wife says he was ice-cold when he started treatment, but his vital signs eventually improved.

Mitchell came out of a month-and-a-half-long coma and went home.

He says nobody expected him to walk on his own until August, but he's doing it with just a little pain in his legs.

He's breathing on his own now too.

His memory can be a little fuzzy, but he remembers the important things - his wife, his two kids, and the people who kept him alive.

"I'm just grateful it was at Community. Community did an amazing job. The doctors there, the ICU staff, they don't get the recognition they deserve," Mustafa says.

His hospital stay left Mitchell with a greater appreciation for life and a clearer vision for his future.

He's aiming for nursing school and hopes to be back here at CRMC one day, helping people getting treated with ECMO.
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