Santa Maria hospital receives new ECMO machine - a potential lifesaver for COVID-19 patients

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Posted at 5:56 PM, Mar 03, 2021
and last updated 2021-03-03 23:28:24-05

Marian Regional Medical Center in Santa Maria has a new tool to help critically-ill COVID-19 patients.

It's now the only hospital between San Francisco and Los Angeles with an ECMO machine.

It's a life-saving piece of equipment that one Santa Maria woman says she would not be alive without.

Melissa Meza and her husband, Luis, tested positive for COVID-19 last March and were admitted to Marian Regional Medical Center within days of each other.

"Running 103, 104 fevers, being packed down on ice here to try and get my fevers down and my wife was admitted on the 28th and I was discharged on the 28th," Luis explained.

Melissa needed to be on a ventilator.

"There was times she was at 100 percent ventilator and she wasn't doing any of the work and it got really bad," Luis said.

In mid-April, Luis was notified that there was an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machine, ECMO for short, available in Santa Monica.

"It was a 50/50 chance that she wasn't going to make the ambulance ride because they couldn't fly her to Santa Monica because her lungs were so bad," Luis said.

He said doctors told him that if Melissa wasn't better in two weeks, it was time to let her go.

"That was really hard. I wasn't going to give up on her. We've been together for 24 years and that wasn't going to happen. I was going to do whatever I had to do to save her," Luis said.

On April 15, their anniversary, Melissa woke up from a coma.

"Having to wake up in a hospital was pretty horrifying and just every day missing my family was the hardest," she said.

The ECMO pumps and oxygenates a patient's blood outside the body, allowing the heart and lungs to rest.

"In those patients where the lungs are so damaged and so severe, this machine can essentially take over for a little while and provide the gas exchange work that the lungs would like to be able to do on their own," said Dr. Paul Perry, Marian Regional Medical Center Cardiothoracic Surgeon.

Melissa was on the machine for 12 days.

The Mark and Dorothy Smith Family Foundation has since donated the funds to acquire an ECMO machine for Marian in honor of the Mezas.

"When we heard about it, we looked at each other and we started crying," Luis said.

The couple says it means so much to have the machine on the Central Coast to help others as it did for Melissa.

"It saved my life. I wouldn't be standing here today if it wasn't for that ECMO machine," she said.

Luis spent six days in the hospital and Melissa spent 62 days.

They say they both have lasting effects like shortness of breath and a cough.

Melissa says she also gets numbness in her legs and tongue.

The hospital tells KSBY News they've used the new machine on one patient so far. The ECMO costs more than $260,000.