On a cold December morning, a 26-year-old mother of two started developing flu symptoms, with fever, headache, and shortness of breath. As her breathing got worse, she came to the emergency room at Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem and was admitted to the Medical Intensive Care Unit (MICU).
When the MICU team saw her initially, she was extremely short of breath and exhibited tachypneic breathing (very rapid respiration), with about 50 breaths a minute. She had low oxygen saturation on full oxygen treatment. Her chest x-ray showed pneumonia secondary to her viral infection. She very rapidly deteriorated and required mechanical ventilation, but before I connected her to the respirator, she took my hand and asked me to save her for the sake of her husband and her children. Unfortunately, her heart was also failing, and her blood pressure was very low. An echocardiogram of her heart showed that it, too, was affected by the virus and was functioning poorly. Viral swabs came back positive for H1N1 Influenza, otherwise known as Swine Flu.
As her situation was deteriorating rapidly and both her lungs and her heart were failing despite maximal medical support, we called an urgent meeting of physicians from different fields, including intensivists, cardiologists, infectious diseases specialists, cardiac surgeons, and pulmonologists. We agreed that unless we connected her to an ECMO (heart and lung machine), she would probably die within the next few hours.
With full cooperation of all the teams, she was connected to the ECMO machine, which functioned as her heart and her lungs. We brought in special anti-viral drugs and allowed her body to recover slowly from her infection. The course was not without setbacks. She had severe bleeding, a secondary infection, and muscle weakness, which required a slow and gradual weaning process.
But our patient eventually improved to the point where she could go to the Rehabilitation Unit at Hadassah Hospital Mount Scopus. One of the most memorable moments was when her two small children came to visit her for the first time after about a month. They jumped on her and would not let go!
Another was when she came back to visit us in the MICU, walking on her own two feet, talking and smiling. She remembered that I promised her she would come back to her family.
“A few months ago, I was called to the post-delivery recovery room at Hadassah to see her. She had just delivered healthy twins! This was, from my point of view, a real miracle of life!” – Dr. Sigal Sviri, director, Medical Intensive Care Unit, Hadassah Hospital Ein Kerem and director, Center for the Treatment of the Ventilated Patient