Landstuhl hospital's own Dr. (Lt. Col.) Sandra Wanek made medical history this week. For the first time, an innovative and portable heart-lung machine was used in a combat evacuation, saving the life of a 22-year-old soldier wounded in Afghanistan. Dr. Waneck flew to Kandahar as part of Landstuhl's Acute Lung Rescue Team, performed surgery there, and returned to Germany with him.
The device, known as an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) machine, performs the function of a patient's trauma-damaged lungs by forcing the patient’s blood through an artificial membrane that lets oxygen in and takes carbon dioxide out. The ECMO, developed at the university hospital at Regensburg, Germany is a further advancement of the earlier Novalung technology.
Within hours, Wanek and her team were bound for Kandahar.
When they got there Wednesday, they operated on him for five hours and tried several different ventilators, but all of them failed.
“I just could not improve his oxygenation to the point where it was safe to fly,” Wanek said.
After missing an evacuation flight and doing one more hour of surgery, Wanek chose to use the device ( ... )
The machine connects to blood vessels in two places: the groin and the jugular vein. Wanek recalled how nervous she was in Afghanistan when she had to unclamp the veins and let the soldier’s blood flow through the tubes.
“I had not felt my heart beat that hard in a long time,” she said.
The machine worked even better than she expected, and by the time the team landed at Landstuhl several hours later, the soldier’s condition had started to improve, said Air Force Maj. Clayne Benson, another anesthesiologist on the lung rescue team.
Dr. Alois Philipp — one of the developers of the machine — accompanied the soldier back to the Regensberg hospital. Philipp will care for the soldier until his lung injuries heal and he is healthy enough to return to Landstuhl.
Read the rest of Seth Robbins' terrific story about this historic, life-saving event in Stars and Stripes.
Established in 2005, the Acute Lung Rescue Team is one of the legacies of former Landstuhl doctors (USAF Col.) Warren Dorlac and (USAF Lt. Col.) Gina Dorlac.
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