Back to Top Skip to main content Skip to sub-navigation

BAMC expands use of ECMO to treat severe COVID-19 patients

Medical personnel wearing masks, looking at paperwork on desk Army Maj. Michal Sobieszczyk, staff physician, Interventional Pulmonology and Critical Care Medicine, reviews paperwork in a COVID-19 intensive care unit at Brooke Army Medical Center, Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas. (Photo by James Camillocci.)

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus

Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, is a heart-lung bypass intervention that is proving to be lifesaving for some patients with COVID-19.

The staff at Brooke Army Medical Center at Joint Base San Antonio Fort Sam Houston in Texas has expanded the use of this highly specialized treatment in a “last line of defense” for critically ill COVID-19 patients. 

 “ECMO is often the last line of defense for the most critically ill patients with severe pulmonary disease,” said Air Force Col. (Dr.) Patrick Osborn, BAMC’s deputy commander for Surgical Services. “Whether due to COVID-19 or another condition, ECMO provides a life-support option that can potentially save lives when all other options are exhausted.”

BAMC, one of the few local facilities that offer the treatment, is currently providing up to one-third of the ECMO capability for the San Antonio area’s most severely ill community members, veterans and military beneficiaries suffering from the virus.

“As much as able, BAMC is easing the burden on local healthcare resources by admitting civilian ECMO patients,” Osborn said.

ECMO Explained

This treatment, which requires a multidisciplinary team of specially trained medical personnel, is used in the intensive care unit when a patient experiences heart and/or lung failure. The ECMO machine removes blood from central vessels in a patient’s body, circulates it through an artificial lung, oxygenates it, and delivers the blood back into the bloodstream. In essence, it replaces the natural functions of the heart and lungs while treatments and natural healing of the affected organs take place. 

“ECMO is not a treatment for any specific disease. It works by keeping critically ill patients alive and buying time for us to address their underlying condition,” explained Air Force Col. (Dr.) Phillip Mason, medical director for BAMC’s Adult ECMO program. “In some cases, we can reduce a patient's chance of dying from 80 to 90 % down to 30 to 40 %. While 30 to 40 % is still high, it represents a significant improvement and translates into many lives saved.”

Established in October 2012, BAMC has the only adult ECMO center in the Department of Defense and remains one of the few centers with global air transportable ECMO capability. The multi-service ECMO team has traveled around the global to pick up service members in need of the treatment.

While taking care of military beneficiaries is BAMC’s primary mission, the organization is able to support civilian ECMO patients through a special Department of Defense program. The experience gained ensures the ECMO team sustains the skills required to mobilize worldwide to treat and transport patients back to BAMC, Osborn said.

COVID-19 Care

Pre-COVID, BAMC averaged four ECMO patients at a a time due to the highly specialized personnel, training and equipment required to care for patients. In recent weeks, the hospital has expanded its capability and is treating up to nine patients at once, most whom are battling COVID-19. 

An ECMO team carefully considers the treatment after other lifesaving measures, such as oxygen therapy or a ventilator, have been exhausted.

“The vast majority of the critical care community believes that ECMO is effective as a rescue therapy for respiratory failure that does not respond to conventional therapies,” Mason noted. 

BAMC is part of a multinational observational trial of ECMO’s use for COVID-19 that should help to reveal evidence-based proof of the treatment’s effectiveness, Mason said. 

“While COVID is a complex disease effecting many organ systems, its primary manifestation is respiratory failure so there is at least some reason to believe ECMO will be effective,” he said, noting the treatment is often used for other viral respiratory illnesses, such as influenza.

With the program in place for nearly a decade, BAMC’s COVID team is accustomed to working closely with local hospitals in the event a patient may be a candidate for ECMO. This collaboration has stepped up in recent months, creating a larger influx of patients. 

To expand capacity to meet the growing community need, BAMC called on its ECMO team to train additional nurses and technicians on the equipment, while also leaning on personnel from the U.S. Army Institute of Surgical Research (ISR) Burn Center, which is housed in the hospital, to assist. 

“With the support of the ISR we have been able to expand our ECMO capacity significantly,” said Army Maj. (Dr.) Michal Sobieszczyk, Staff Physician, Interventional Pulmonology and Critical Care Medicine. "The BAMC and ISR bedside nurses have been instrumental in making the ECMO mission a success" 

Lifesaving Treatment

ECMO may be a last resort for COVID patients, but one that has proved lifesaving for many.

Sobieszczyk recalled one recent patient in his late 20s who was placed on ECMO two times, once for COVID-19 pneumonia, from which he recovered, and the second time for a bacterial pneumonia and sepsis. 

“He required a high level of support and came close to dying several times,” Sobieszczyk said. He was able to be weaned off ECMO and was decannulated (had tubes removed).

As a last-resort measure, ECMO is a high-stakes endeavor, Mason noted. “We have the highest highs and the lowest lows. But each life saved is incredibly rewarding for us, and a testament to the importance of this treatment.”

 “The ECMO team is honored to support the community during this pandemic,” he said. “Not only are we able to help the civilian population, but at the same time use this as an opportunity to enhance our mission readiness. It gives everyone a sense of purpose and mission, something we all strive for in the military.”

You also may be interested in...

ARNORTH military support to FEMA begins in Tennessee, continues in five states

Article Around MHS
9/24/2021
Prepared COVID-19 vaccine shots wait to be administered to an Airman. Members of the 134th Air Refueling Wing were eligible to receive their COVID-19 vaccines during Unit Training Assembly here May 2nd, 2021.

At the request of the Federal Emergency Management Agency, approximately 20 military medical personnel deployed to Tennessee to support civilian healthcare workers treating COVID-19 patients in local hospitals.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

COVID-19 can lead to long-term health concerns

Article Around MHS
9/23/2021
Debra Lamb, a 30-year civil service veteran at Ft. Carson, contracted the COVID-19 virus late in 2020 and experienced a harrowing ordeal before partially recovering months later.

Debra Lamb, a 30-year civil service veteran at Ft. Carson, contracted the COVID-19 virus late in 2020 and experienced a harrowing ordeal before partially recovering months later.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

DODEA Schools Keeps On With In-Person Classes, and Fall Sports, Too

Article
9/23/2021
Kids playing football

DODEA schools are striving to continue in-person learning in the 2021-22 school year.

Recommended Content:

Children's Health | Coronavirus

6th Medical Group Delivers Mandatory Vaccines

Article Around MHS
9/21/2021
An Airman from the 6th Medical Group prepares a COVID-19 vaccine for distribution at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida.

Airmen from the 6th Medical Group began redistributing doses of the COVID-19 vaccine at MacDill Air Force Base, Florida, on Sept. 9, 2021. This comes after the Secretary of Defense issued a memorandum on Aug. 23, 2021, mandating all active duty personnel to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

Got Your 6

Video
9/16/2021
Got Your 6 Infographic

‘Got Your 6’ is TRICARE’s COVID vaccine video series that delivers important information and updates, on days that end in ‘6.’ It includes the latest information about DOD vaccine distribution, the TRICARE health benefit, and vaccine availability. Got a question about ‘Got Your 6’? Send an email to dha.ncr.comm.mbx.dha-internal-communications@mail.mil

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

After the ventilator COVID survivor advocates for vaccine

Article Around MHS
9/15/2021
Tim Harris is sedated while on a ventilator

Tim Harris, a mobilization and planning specialist, U.S. Army Medical Center of Excellence, is sedated while on a ventilator at Brooke Army Medical Center, Joint Base San Antonio-Fort Sam Houston, Texas, June 27, 2020.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus

Army Medicine Europe Provides Additional COVID Vaccinations for Immune Compromised

Article Around MHS
9/13/2021
Franz Dietrich, a German local national assigned to Training Support Activity Europe, receives a COVID-19 vaccination at the 7th Army Training Command's (7ATC) Rose Barracks, Vilseck, Germany, May 4, 2021. The U.S. Army Health Clinics at Grafenwoehr and Vilseck conducted a "One Community" COVID-19 vaccine drive May 3-7 to provide thousands of appointments to the 7ATC community of Soldiers, spouses, Department of the Army civilians, veterans and local nationals employed by the U.S. Army. (U.S. Army photo by Markus Rauchenberger)

Army medical treatment facilities in Europe are now offering an additional dose of COVID vaccine for immune compromised beneficiaries.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

The COVID-19 Pandemic: How Health Care Workers are Coping

Article
9/13/2021
a nurse helping a COVID-19 patient

For health care providers, experiencing the pandemic inside a hospital has brought

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | Military Health Podcasts

Increased COVID Restrictions on the Pentagon Reservation

Article
9/8/2021
Military personnel wearing a face mask

Due to the increase in COVID-19 cases and positive test cases in the National Capital Region, the Pentagon Reservation will move to Health Protection Condition Bravo Plus (Bravo+)

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus

Digital health innovation emerges during COVID-19 pandemic

Article
8/31/2021
The Defense Health Agency’s Connected Health Branch was there to support, advise and deliver new health innovations throughout the pandemic. (Graphic courtesy of DHA Connected Health)

The DHA's Connected Health Branch was there to support, advise, and deliver new health innovations throughout the pandemic.

Recommended Content:

Connected Health | Coronavirus

As Fitness Tests Resume, Troops Seek Post-COVID Exercise Routines

Article
8/31/2021
Military personnel physically training

Keeping fit during pandemic proves hard for some.

Recommended Content:

Total Body Preventive Health and Total Force Fitness | Total Force Fitness | Physical Fitness | Coronavirus

COVID-19 Booster Shots

Infographic
8/27/2021
If you have an immune system that is moderately to severely compromised, the CDC recommends you may receive an additional dose of mRNA COVID-19 vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna). This would be at least 4 weeks after your second dose.

If you have an immune system that is moderately to severely compromised, the CDC recommends you may receive an additional dose of mRNA COVID-19 vaccine (Pfizer or Moderna). This would be at least 4 weeks after your second dose.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Vaccine Eligibility | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

Secretary of Defense Mandates COVID-19 Vaccinations for Service Members

Article
8/26/2021
An Army medic administers the COVID-19 vaccine to another soldier.

Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III yesterday issued a memorandum directing mandatory COVID-19 vaccinations for service members.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

DOD Intends to Mandate Pfizer Vaccine, Pentagon Official Says

Article
8/25/2021
Pentagon Press Secretary John F. Kirby holds a press briefing, at the Pentagon, Washington, D.C.

Kirby said the health of DOD's military and civilian employees, families and communities is a top priority.

Recommended Content:

Coronavirus | COVID-19 Vaccine Efforts

CSM Gragg Vaccine Statement

Video
8/24/2021
CSM Gragg speaks about COVID-19

CSM Gragg shares his personal story dealing with COVID and the loss associated with it and urges all to take precautions.

Recommended Content:

COVID-19 Vaccine Toolkit | Coronavirus | Getting the COVID-19 Vaccine
<< < 1 2 3 4 5  ... > >> 
Showing results 1 - 15 Page 1 of 35

DHA Address: 7700 Arlington Boulevard | Suite 5101 | Falls Church, VA | 22042-5101

Some documents are presented in Portable Document Format (PDF). A PDF reader is required for viewing. Download a PDF Reader or learn more about PDFs.