By Sgt. 1st Class Randall Jackson, 30th MEDCOM Public AffairsJuly 19, 2013
LANDSTUHL, Germany (July 19, 2013) -- When a patients' life depends on a 13-hour flight and a complicated lung bypass machine for survival, there's a lot of fear that something could go wrong. But for the wife of an Army Soldier stationed in Germany, it was not only a smooth medical evacuation flight across the Atlantic, but also a first in military medicine.
On July 10,2013, a team from Landstuhl Regional Medical Center, or LRMC, flew an Army spouse from Ramstein Air Base, Germany, to the San Antonio Military Medical Center in Texas while connected to a portable heart-lung bypass machine called ECMO, which stands for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation. The machine oxygenates the patient's blood outside their body, allowing the organs to rest and recover on their own.
So far the specialized 6-person Acute Lung Rescue Team from LRMC has flown American, British and Italian military patients from downrange to LRMC since 2010, but this was the first transatlantic flight in the history of ECMO. Until now the patients have been mostly service members injured in Afghanistan, but this patient, who has spent the past four months in a German hospital, shows how ECMO is increasingly being used to save lives under different scenarios.
"We're nervous, but excited that the technology is available for Soldiers and spouses alike, and that they care as much for the family members as they do for the Soldiers," said the husband. "She's getting the exact same support as a Soldier." The husband and patient both wish to remain anonymous; however, the medical care they received made military medical history.
"It's a huge milestone, a breakthrough on many levels," said Air Force Lt. Col. (Dr.) Jeremy Cannon, the San Antonio Military Medical Center ECMO team leader. "From technology application to team development, to systems development, to standing up ECMO capabilities here in Germany and in San Antonio, it's a major breakthrough."
And it happened fast.
"I talked to the American doctors about six days ago about moving her to the States. Once they decided to move her to the States, it happened really quickly," said the husband.
In addition to helping the patient, the transfer is also a chance for the LRMC Acute Lung Rescue Team to validate the skills of the San Antonio Military Medical Center's ECMO team who have plans to make this a regular mission.
"The ultimate goal is that we have a global reach capability so that there can be a team based here in Europe, the U.S., and a team based in the Pacific so that we have the ability to move patients anywhere on the globe to this central ECMO center in San Antonio," said Air Force Lt. Col. (Dr.) David Zonies, the LRMC Acute Lung Rescue Team leader
"In addition to the training platform in San Antonio, our relationship started with the University Hospital in Regensburg, Germany, which is a regional center that does ECMO care and one of the world's leading experts, and a great resource available to us," added Zonies.
Even though Regensburg University Hospital has supported U.S. and NATO patients in the past, the DOD is now able to provide that care.
"The advantage of this change is to maximize the trauma care that they receive," said Air Force Maj. Michelle Langdon, a registered nurse and the ECMO program coordinator at LRMC. "Regensburg is not a trauma center, and the wounds that our warriors receive in battle are very difficult for them to maintain and manage with their other patient load. So the advantage to this is that our patients will be repatriated into our trauma system and receive that same level of care."
The LRMC team plans to continue their ECMO training quarterly, including in-flight practice, hoping to use their skills to save more lives in the future.
"It makes me excited and happy that the capability is there and that they're able to do it in such a quick fashion," said the patient's husband.