At a time when most high school grads were studying for exams and looking forward to the summer, one Burnaby youth had tubes coming out of her, attached to machines her best friend couldn’t name.
Hannah Pae remembers the one-month period last summer when her friend’s condition turned from pneumonia to her lungs collapsing and going into cardiac arrest.
“I just remember her missing school because she was sick,” Pae said, on the first floor of Royal Columbian Hospital, where her friend’s life was saved. “We just thought it was the flu, but she was home for maybe two days before going to emergency at Burnaby Hospital. At first, they didn’t know what it was when she was admitted. … And then she was transferred and when they found out her lungs were collapsing, she had to get hooked up for nine days.”
Pae didn’t get to see Linette Ho, her friend since elementary school, very much in that time – and when she did it was hard to take.
“That’s when she was hooked up to all the tubes and machines and I didn’t even know what they were,” Pae said, about one of her visits when Ho was still sedated. “I knew she was going to be good, but there is that possibility I have to consider. It was just really overwhelming and I remember calling her mother every morning.”
When Ho finally woke up, it was to a big scar on her chest, she didn’t know where she was – but the first thing she worried about was her exams.
“It was in the last two weeks of my Grade 12 year, after prom, after commencement, everything,” Ho told the Burnaby NOW, who is now 19 and taking business at the University of British Columbia. “I was just studying for finals. I wasn’t eating. I was exercising excessively and I was just really stressed out. So, I guess I put my body in a state … and my immunity system was down.”
Ho got pneumonia, and she ended up in ICU at Burnaby General Hospital, she was transported Royal Columbian Hospital, where she barely survived an emergency open-heart surgery.
“From there, they saw my lungs were even getting worse,” she said. “They collapsed, as well. They put me on … an artificial lung … a complication happened and my heart got punctured, so they had to do open-heart surgery at about 3 a.m. in the morning. My parents were waiting in the hospital and they came out and 7 a.m. and told my parents that I was getting worse and I had a 30 per cent chance of surviving. During my surgery my heart stopped twice, as well.”
After a few weeks, Ho woke up and has since made a full recovery.
But, her recovery didn’t come easy. She had to be transferred from Burnaby to Royal Columbian hospital by using a makeshift extracorpreal life support stretcher, which supports the lungs and heart of a patient being transported from one hospital to another.
“This is equipment that’s needed,” Ho said, adding that she’s an example of how necessary it is. “If it wasn’t around, I wouldn’t be alive.”
The machine Ho used was made back in 2006 when a 19-year-old woman had critical heart failure and had to be transported for a possible heart transplant. Then in 2010, Surrey Memorial Hospital called Royal Columbian that they had a 14-year-old boy in critical condition.
“Fortunately, we have a very dedicated and talented perfusion group who took up the challenge and immediately managed to get all the gear together,” said Dustin Spratt, chief of perfusion service. “It was a good story, we were actually able to save this young man.”
It was the province’s first retrieval using the extracorpreal device, and the team had to use a wheelchair taxi to get it to Surrey.
“We needed to be able to be more efficient and be able to respond quickly,” he said.
Royal Columbian’s team has come a long way from making its first device, which now fits into an ambulance, to having now helped develop a new extracorporeal life support stretcher that’s the first of its kind in Canada.
“Some of the equipment is borrowed, there’s equipment that is adapted, there was really nothing that was professionally created for (extracorporeal) transports so we had to adapt to build all of this.”
Eighteen months ago, the team, made up of a surgeon and two perfusionists, teamed up with the world’s largest stretcher manufacturer, Ferno, and there are now four stretchers being built for sale – but the catch is that Royal Columbian doesn’t have the money for the $42,000 pricetag.
“It allows us to not only transport on ground ambulance now, but this gives us the ability to transport in any emergency aircraft.”
As Royal Columbian’s team covers the entire Fraser Health region, the Fraser Health Authority is hoping to buy the specialized stretcher through donations.
According to Dr. Derek Gunning, the cardiac surgeon who’s been part of the project since the beginning, the equipment is used as a last ditch effort for a patient facing almost certain death.
“This is the only option for them,” Gunning said. “Because of the complexity and invasiveness of the procedure … as it stands now, it’s for people failing conventional therapies who have no other option.”
For those who have failing heart and lungs, patients are generally in their teens or early 20s, he added.
To make a donation to the Royal Columbian Hospital Foundation to help purchase the device, visit rchfoundation.com/ways-to-give/giving-catalogue/gift-catalogue.
© Copyright 2013