WVU Heart and Vascular Institute successfully removes COVID-19 patient from ECMO

Thursday, June 25, 2020

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. – The WVU Heart and Vascular Institute successfully removed its first COVID-19 patient from ECMO on Tuesday, June 16, after 514 hours of support. 

(From left to right) Vinay Badhwar, M.D., executive chair of the WVU Heart and Vascular Institute, and Felix Gonzalez Carrasquillo, M.D., COVID-19 patient
(From left to right) Vinay Badhwar, M.D., executive chair of the WVU Heart and Vascular Institute, and Felix Gonzalez Carrasquillo, M.D., COVID-19 patient

Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, is a form of life support that is used when the patient’s lungs are damaged and unable to effectively oxygenate the blood. This life-saving measure frequently provides physicians with time to resolve diseases affecting the lungs and their ability to function. The WVU Heart and Vascular Institute ECMO program serves as a referral center for a four-state catchment area.

“ECMO is often a treatment of last resort for our patients,” Paul McCarthy, M.D., WVU Heart and Vascular Institute critical care division chief. “Once patients lose lung function, their options for life support are extremely limited.”

The patient, Felix Gonzalez Carrasquillo, M.D., 51, a VA hospital emergency room physician from Charles Town, was placed on ECMO after being admitted to WVU Medicine J.W. Ruby Memorial Hospital on May 20. 

“We are fortunate that WVU Medicine has a sophisticated, multidisciplinary team in place that allows complex, interdependent care to be rendered reliably, consistently, and efficiently to allow for the best results,” Jeremiah Hayanga, M.D., WVU Heart and Vascular Institute ECMO program director, said. “Our program’s outcomes have consistently been above national bench marks.”

According to Dr. Hayanga, Dr. Gonzalez Carrasquillo was in lung and kidney failure upon arrival and was unlikely to survive without ECMO.

“Once they have exceeded conventional therapies, COVID-19 patients have few treatment options,” Hayanga said. “There are a number of experimental drugs and therapies, such as tocilizimab, hydroxychloroquIne, and convalescent plasma, but often these are difficult to obtain without rigorous protocols already in place, particularly in the absence of a multidisciplinary platform to deliver these therapies.”

On June 24, Gonzalez Carrasquillo was transferred to a rehabilitation facility, where he will undergo physical therapy to regain his strength once his COVID-19 test is negative. According to Hayanga, it is expected he will recover and return to work by the end of the summer pending further negative COVID-19 tests.

“The core mission of the WVU Heart and Vascular Institute is to provide the most advanced therapies available to every citizen of West Virginia and our surrounding regions,” Vinay Badhwar, M.D., WVU Heart and Vascular Institute executive chair, said. “Our award-winning ECMO program is just one of our many services that provides multidisciplinary excellence. Our entire team was very pleased to be able to rescue our first responder provider from COVID-19. We remain collectively ever vigilant as we navigate the pandemic. Our state should know that we are poised and ready to serve our citizens with the most advanced capabilities in the nation.”

For more information on the WVU Heart and Vascular Institute, visit WVUMedicine.org/Heart.

For more information: Heather Bonecutter, Communications Specialist, 304-285-7256