Medical Center of Aurora October 01, 2018

AURORA, Colo., October 1, 2018 – HCA Healthcare/HealthONE’s The Medical Center of Aurora (TMCA) announced that, under the direction of Dr. Michael Firstenberg, they have started an Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation, or ECMO, program. The program, which launched in late summer, is the product of a multidisciplinary team effort due to the complexities of the treatment and of the patients being treated with this therapy. 

Much like dialysis is a therapy for patients with kidney failure, ECMO is a sophisticated temporary therapy for patients with severe heart and/or lung failure – such as might be seen in severe cases of the flu or after a massive heart attack.  Dr. Firstenberg, a board-certified cardiac surgeon who practices at Cardiothoracic & Vascular Surgery Associates, is well known in the medical world and is particularly known for his work with ECMO. In 2016, he wrote a book titled, Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation, Advances in Therapy, and is an expert in the field of ECMO.  He has lectured extensively worldwide on the topic. 

In the past, doctors used ECMO as a treatment when all other treatments had failed. The therapy was a last effort to keep very sick patients alive. Today, however, doctors at tertiary care facilities are using ECMO as a safe, effective therapy for patients who are experiencing acute cardiac and/or pulmonary failure. Among those successfully treated since the inception of the facility’s program are two women with young children. Neither would have lived without the intervention.

“The ECMO program adds important resources to our cardiopulmonary programs, and TMCA has become a top regional tertiary care center with the addition of Dr. Firstenberg and new programs in Endocarditis, Pulmonary Hypertension, Heart Failure, Complex Valve Disease and High-Risk Heart Surgery,” says Dr. Dianne McCallister, Chief Medical Officer at The Medical Center of Aurora and Spalding Rehabilitation Hospital.

The program began as an idea when Dr. Firstenberg arrived and morphed into a project that required significant planning and prepping at TMCA. Dr. McCallister says, “This program doesn’t run without a collaboration between physicians of various specialties, who are working closely together to determine when ECMO is medically appropriate as an added therapy for a patient.” She continues, “A number of departments and physicians working together is what created our program. When the ECMO team is mobilized, it’s typically been in the midst of an emergent situation, and while we will continue that treatment in emergency situations, our team also has the option now to begin ECMO therapy earlier in a case rather than waiting until the situation has become dire and the patient’s life is significantly in jeopardy.”

“The implementation of an ECMO program is a significant advance for TMCA’s Acute Respiratory Failure program, which also treat conditions such as severe pneumonias (including the flu), massive blood clots to the lung, and severe asthma attacks,” says Dr. Firstenberg. “This important supportive treatment provides an option for our sickest patients to give their lungs a chance to heal and to sustain life as their body recovers from an illness. ECMO is now an option for more patients and is no longer used as only a last effort for a dying patient. Instead, we are able to use the therapy earlier in the course of treatment to allow the body to heal over the course of a few days to a few weeks. We are prepared to accept patients from other institutions that do not have this therapy to help save lives in our community.” 

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