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Joel Claros

In 2010, Thomas Jefferson University Hospital introduced new capabilities for portable extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), which provides both cardiac and respiratory support to individuals with severely diseased or damaged heart and lungs. Since then, the hospital has built the area’s only comprehensive, surgeon-led Adult ECMO Program that includes a dedicated unit and team of clinicians with special training and experience in using this life-saving technology.

“Our program is gaining recognition in the community, with other hospitals increasingly referring critically ill patients to our team,” says Nicholas C. Cavarocchi, MD, FACS, FCCP, Director of the Surgical Cardiac Care Unit and Professor of Surgery. He notes that two recent patient stories illustrate how Jefferson’s ECMO Program is saving lives through innovative mobile life support.

Saving a Young Life

In early February, 17-year-old Joel Claros’ heart stopped beating at his home in Philadelphia. His family immediately called 911, and the arriving paramedics found him without a pulse. After successfully resuscitating him, they transported him to Methodist Hospital in South Philadelphia, where he remained in shock. Recognizing the severity of his condition, Methodist physicians reached out to Jefferson. Methodist is one of the Thomas Jefferson University Hospitals, and several surgeons work at both locations.

“We sent our ECMO team to Methodist and cannulated the patient there before bringing him to Jefferson for further treatment. That quick decision saved his life,” Dr. Cavarocchi says, adding that Methodist’s Chair of Surgery, Francesco Palazzo, MD, FACS, stayed close at hand to help ensure a smooth process for Hitoshi Hirose, MD, PhD, FACS, the ECMO physician on call.

Joel was later diagnosed with a primary arrhythmia secondary to viral cardiomyopathy. In other words, a virus caused his acute cardiomyopathy, which aggravated previously undiagnosed arrhythmia and led to cardiac arrest. Dr. Cavarocchi notes that Joel has since made a full recovery, and his prognosis is excellent.

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