Dr. Gurmeet Singh Gives Hope to Patients Who are Minutes Away from Death
Though she was moments from losing consciousness, Jolissa Doerksen grasped the severity of her situation. Lying immobile in a hospital bed in Grande Prairie’s intensive care unit, the 23-year-old new mom was alternating between seeing bright light and blackness.
Once placed on ECMO, the patient’s blood is drawn out of his or her body and pumped into an artificial lung, which removes carbon dioxide from the blood and adds oxygen. The freshly oxygenated blood is returned back into the patient.
Generous community support to the University Hospital Foundation, including callers to the 630 CHED Heart Pledge Day in 2017, an annual day-long fundraising event at the Maz, have donated over $700,000 for the purchase of the most advanced ECMO equipment,including portable machines that make transporting patients for imaging or even surgery immeasurably easier. We are eternally grateful for the support we’ve received that’s allowed us to have this equipment on hand when we need it,” says Singh.
“There is no other option for these patients. This is it.”
The success of any program is completely dependent on the members of the team – the people who are dedicated to the program’s success,” Singh says.
By volume we are probably the second-biggest program in the country” after Toronto, says Singh. “I have worked in four advanced cardiovascular intensive care units across North America, including the Cleveland Clinic, and I can tell you that our program is second to none, anywhere in the world.
The number of patients who go on ECMO has climbed from 15 to 20 a year when Singh came to Edmonton 12 years ago, to about 50 per year now, though the peak was 70 in a year. Prior to 2009, ECMO support was not offered for isolated lung failure. Even so, Singh and his team only accept a percentage of the ECMO referrals, as many just will not benefit from this type of support.
We’re aggressive, but there’s no bravado,” says Singh. “We say, ‘Call us for everything.’ We want to know what’s out there, because as long as we know what’s out there, there’s less danger we’re going to miss someone who can be helped.” It’s crucial to note that ECMO is always a “bridge” to another end point, whether that eventuality is recovery, an organ transplant, or a decision to turn life support off.
For Doerksen, of course, ECMO was a bridge to recovery. She believes she wouldn’t be alive today had ECMO not been available for her. More than three weeks after her ordeal began, she was reunited with her baby daughter. And though she has a few lingering health effects, such as sore feet and weakened lungs, she went on to have two more children. We are so incredibly lucky here inAlberta to have access to absolutely amazing life-saving technology. There’s no question that it saves lives,” she says, adding she’s thankful for every medical professional who cared for her.
“They all played a part in my miracle.”
Doerksen’s case is just one of the positive stories Singh has collected during his 12 years at the hospital. True, there can be a harsh reality to life support, and some patients don’t get better – but many do. One day, Singh was at work when a young woman, a hospital porter, approached him. What she said surprised him, as he hadn’t known that one of his patients, who had been on ECMO during a severe bout with H1N1 flu, had a family member working at the hospital. “She stopped me in the hallway to thank me for saving her dad,” says Singh, emotion in his voice and some extra moisture in his eyes as he recalls the encounter. “There are so many gratifying stories, these patients and their resiliency are constantly redefining my expectations.”