COVID-19 Survivor Story: Man thankful for Rush’s extraordinary care and innovative machine

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CHICAGO — Surviving COVID-19 is a feat.

Jose Esquivel is thankful just to talk, walk and breathe, and because of what he calls “extraordinary care.”

“It’s like completely new, a completely new life,” he said. “It feels really good. It feels great.”

All this from a man who thought he was taking his last breaths.

“I had to fight for my life to see my family again,” Esquivel said.

Doctors gave him a choice that seemed drastic and confusing, putting him on an ECMO machine.

Erica Bak is a RN and ECMO coordinator at Rush University Medical Center.

“ECMO stands for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation,” Bak said. “It’s basically a simplified heart lung machine similar to what they use in the operating room for heart surgeries.”

But the simple machine is highly complicated to launch and remove. Doctors at Rush University Medical Center had faith and experience.

Dr. Sara Mirza is a Pulmonologist and Intensivist at Rush.

“Our success rate, based on national average, we have 20 percent above the national average in saving patients with VV ECMO, which is a special type of ECMO for supporting the lungs,” she said. “Treating patients now with COVID Pneumonia and COVID lung problems, that expertise is being brought into play.”

A massive team coordinated Esquivel’s care. Unlike those on a ventilator, Esquivel was able to walk while ECMO did the work of his heart and lungs, pumping blood up over his head and into his body.

“We are able to provide a machine that takes over the work of the heart and the lungs. And it’s able to essentially save a person from dying,” Mirza said. “And we are able to work on the patient and we are able to get them through a very critically ill phase.”

Dr. Omar Lateef is the CEO at Rush University Medical Center.

“We are taking patients that are on the brink of death, putting them on ECMO, then watching them sing songs in the hospital,” he said.

Within days Esquivel got stronger and no longer needed the machine.

“You have to love this machine because it gives you a chance to live,” he said. “Thanks to the machine I am right here and ready to go home and my family is waiting for me.”

Before he went home, he got to meet the doctor who called the ECMO team on his behalf.

And as he left the hospital, there were tears of joy and a round of applause.

The cheers continued from his family as he walked through the front door of his home,  50 pounds lighter but alive.

“They were crying when I got home,” he said. “When they saw me coming, they didn’t believe how I had changed. … I am doing pretty good. I am getting better every day.”

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