Enes Dedic, 53, had traveled overseas before returning to his Phoenix home. He spent weeks battling the usual COVID-19 symptoms, including body aches, nausea, fever, and chills. Eventually, he was admitted to HonorHealth’s Deer Valley Medical Center, where he quickly deteriorated.
Doctors used just about every tool in their belts to try and cure the man of the disease, but it looked as if it was going to turn fatal in his case. The anti-malaria drug hydroxychloroquine, the antibiotic azithromycin, various anti-viral drugs, and even anti-inflammatories — which have shown limited promise in treating some COVID-19 patients — all proved ineffective for Dedic.
He had been placed on a ventilator and was close to death when his doctor, Dr. Anselmo Garcia — a pulmonologist and critical care physician — decided to try one last possible treatment — extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO).
ECMO works by carrying blood from the body into an artificial lung, where it receives oxygen, which is then pumped back into the body via an artificial heart. The procedure essentially bypasses the lungs, which are all but useless in severe COVID-19 cases.
“At that point, it was either ECMO or death for him,” Dr. Ace Ovil, a trauma and clinical care surgeon, said of Dedic’s options.
ECMO is not widely used because it has a mortality rate of about 40 percent, “extraordinarily high for almost any medical procedure,” Dedic’s doctors stated.
Dr. Robert Riley, chief of cardiothoracic surgery at HonorHealth, performed the surgical procedure that enabled Dedic to receive the treatment. Riley knew at the time that the evidence ECMO could work against COVID-19 was limited and that the procedure carried risks. However, they were out of options.
Dedic would spend the next 10 days in a medically induced coma while receiving the treatment.
After the 10th day, he was well enough to wake up and FaceTime his wife, Olivera Dedic.
“I can’t even express myself. I was jumping through the roof when I heard that they woke him up and he’s doing better,” she said.
Though he has apparently beaten the disease, he still has a long way to go. He remains hospitalized indefinitely and he’s still “very weak,” working on physical therapy that would allow him to stand up.
It remains to be seen if ECMO is going to be used as a treatment for other COVID-19 patients. Even if it is implemented, however, there are very few ECMO machines in the United States. For example, the entire HonorHealth system only has five machines.