Boy recovers from severe pneumonia after 27 days of artificial heart



A 20-year-old boy who developed severe breathing difficulties due to pneumonia has been saved through the use of supportive ECMO treatment in Abu Dhabi.

Sajjad Alam was hospitalised at the Sheikh Khalifa Medical City (SKMC) after presenting to the hospital with severe respiratory distress. He was struggling to breathe, and his oxygen saturation had dropped to an alarming 78 per cent, the hospital said in a statement.

Although he had previously been healthy, Alam’s body mass index was low at 18, which indicated malnourishment. Doctors at the hospital, which is part of the Abu Dhabi Healthy Services Company (Seha) network and a subsidiary of the PureHealth Group, found that Alam’s lungs had failed due to a severe pneumonia that had spread thrpughout his body. The young man was immediately shifted to the intensive care unit and placed on ventilator support.

When Alam’s condition did not improve, his doctors decided to put him on Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) to support his breathing. The treatment uses an artificial heart and lung to support the body when a person’s organs are too sick to do the job, and Alam was found to be ideal for it given his age and chances of recovery.

“ECMO gives patients an opportunity to survive until we resolve the heart or lung failure or replace them if needed. ECMO is the maximum level of life support, it is basically your heart and lungs outside your body,” explained Dr Mohammed Abdelrehman Shalaby, consultant critical care and adult ECMO lead. After detailed discussions and weighing the risks, the doctors planned to put the patient on ECMO after six days of ventilator support. Alam was therefore put on ECMO on his 20th birthday.

The ECMO team at SKMC consisted of 24 trained experienced specialists that included intensive care physicians, nurses, respiratory therapists, perfusion-ists, dietitians and physical therapists, providing a multidisciplinary holistic approach to improve the chances of survival.

“We provide ECMO support to babies, children, and adults across two ICUs throughout the hospital. ECMO is more than just a sophisticated state-of-the-art machine. It requires significant dedicated time at the bedside, multiple equipments, and highly trained personnel. It also involves close monitoring and round-the-clock intervention and care for patients,” said Dr Mohammed Amari, division chief of critical care at SKMC.

After almost 10 days on ECMO, Alam’s lungs slowly started showing signs of improvement, and his infection began to recede. Still, the team at SKMC was unable to start the process of taking him off ECMO due to continuous bleeding in his lungs. Several bronchoscopy procedures had to be per-formed to remove the clots that had formed in the organs.