Shortly after giving birth, a Central Indiana mother’s heart stopped and her vital organs began to shut down. However, she survived, thanks to a team of quick thinking doctors and something called an Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) machine.
“It’s good to be alive,” said Katherine Richardson of Avon.
In December, Richardson gave birth to her fourth child, a boy named JD at IU Hospital West in Avon. Immediately after the birth, things began to go wrong.
“Initially the first scare was with JD,” said Lee Richardson, Katherine Richardson’s husband. “When he was born he didn’t breathe, so for the first five minutes of his life they were resuscitating him.”
Though doctors would later stabilize their son, neither Lee nor Katherine were prepared for the second scare.
“I started to bleed and they couldn’t stop the bleeding,” Katherine said. “The next thing I knew I was in the operating room and that’s the last thing I remember.”
Lee didn’t know what was happening either, until a nurse at IU Health West emerged from the operating room.
“I said, ‘What’s going on?’” Lee said. “She said, ‘Well they are giving her medicine, doing chest compressions, they lost her rhythm.’”
“The conventional means of (life) support were not working anymore,” said Dr. David Roe, an IU Health transplant pulmonologist. “Her oxygen levels were life threatening at that point in time.”
Dr. Roe got a call telling him that Katherine’s heart and kidneys were failing and her lungs were filing with fluid. She was being rushed to IU Methodist Hospital, where Dr. Roe consulted with Dr. Tom Wozniak, a cardiothoracic surgeon, and decided to try something called ECMO therapy.
The ECMO machine pumps blood out of the body, adds oxygen and then pumps the oxygenated blood back into the body. The machine has been around for more than 20 years, but only recently became an option for extended therapy thanks to some technological advancements.
In just the past two and a half years, IU Methodist formed a team of up to 12 medical professionals, who spring into action if ECMO therapy might be needed in life threatening situations.
That team reacted when Katherine needed it, and it helped save her life.
“We were able to successfully place her on ECMO therapy in less than about 90 minutes,” Dr. Roe said.
“It clearly saved her life,” said Dr. Wozniak.
“If it weren’t for their ability to do what they do, and do it quickly, she wouldn’t be here,” Lee said.
After just two days on the machine, Katherine started to rapidly improve and she was finally able to hold her son. In less than a week, she was walking around the hospital and she went home just 10 days after giving birth.
She said her last appointment indicated that her heart, kidneys and lungs were back to normal.
“It’s very overwhelming because I have so much to lose. You know, I have a beautiful family, I have a brand new baby, you know, that I really wanted to be with,” Richardson said. “I was so grateful to be alive.”