Brand-new, specialized medical team rescues Fresno woman from death

Tuesday, January 17, 2017
Brand-new, specialized medical team rescues Fresno woman from death
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Brittney Lopez, 21, was visiting family for the holidays when she suffered a severe asthma attack.

FRESNO, Calif. (KFSN) -- A young Fresno woman came close to death after having an asthma attack, but a Central Valley hospital's new medical team saved her life.

It was a terrifying moment for Brittney Lopez. Two weeks ago the young woman suffered a severe asthma attack and was rushed to the emergency room at Community Regional Medical Center.

When she arrived doctors began giving her shots and breathing treatments to open up her lungs, but the medicine was not working.

"I started panicking and couldn't breathe at all and passed out," she said.

The 21-year-old was home visiting family over the holidays when she suddenly had difficulty breathing and had to be rushed to the hospital. Rushing against time and knowing Lopez was at the edge of death, her physicians ran her down to the operating room and activated the hospital's new, six-month-old program called ECMO.

ECMO involves a unique device and a team of trained medical professionals who have specific roles catering to the patient's needs. It takes blood out of the body, circulating it through the machine while adding oxygen or removing carbon dioxide before returning the blood back to the body.

Within moments of using it, Lopez showed signs of improvement.

"Very quickly after being put on her ventilation, her oxygenation was essentially normalized at that point," Dr. Tim Evans explained.

There are other ECMO devices in the Valley, including at Valley Children's Hospital, as well as doctors trained to use it, but CRMC officials say they have the only accredited ECMO team in the Central Valley. Aaron Schreur is part of the team and was the one who put Lopez on the $120,000 machine.

"Her carbon dioxide level was about 180," he said. "A normal level would be about 40, so she was in an area that was not compatible with life."

Now that she has been saved, Lopez is trying to figure out how to thank the ECMO team who saved her life.

"I don't know how you would thank someone for that," she said.

But she found a way to do it, meeting some of her heroes for the first time Monday.

"I feel weird saying thank you, but, 'Thank you,'" she told the team.

Lopez is now left with this tube in her chest, preventing air pockets from forming and crushing her lungs. She will likely have it removed in a week.

Now since starting the ECMO team last August, CRMC has had 85 percent survival rate for patients who needed to use it.