Patient Stories

Benny’s Story – ECMO

ECMO_patient.pngThe sound of a newborn baby’s cry.

Nearly everyone has either heard it in a movie or experienced it first hand. That distinctive cry is widely recognized as the first sign of a newborn’s arrival. Taking that first breath, with the resultant cry, is also the most important task of a newborn. While in the womb, oxygen is delivered to the baby via the umbilical cord, so there is no need to use the lungs. But upon birth, a baby’s body must quickly transition to acquiring oxygen with his lungs. If this transition doesn’t happen, it is life threatening.

That’s why on June 16, Benny Charles, son of Ingrid and Bertrand Charles of Hartford, was transferred from his mother’s birthing hospital to Connecticut Children’s. At just one day old, Benny was having trouble with this vital transition.

Benny was suffering from hypoxia (inadequate oxygen in the body tissue) and hypotension (unusually low blood pressure). This was preventing him from adequately oxygenating his tiny body. “Benny was not responding to traditional medication to get him to breathe on his own,” his mother explained. So at 38-hours-old, Benny became a candidate for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). This new, life-saving procedure uses an artificial heart and lung to deliver oxygen to the infant’s body. “ECMO was the last resort. At that point he had a 50/50 chance of survival,” Ingrid said.

ECMO technology is comprised of an artificial lung that puts oxygen into the blood and removes carbon dioxide from the blood. A heat exchanger warms the blood to normal body temperature and the blood is then pumped back into the baby. The pump is precisely adjusted to the needs of the neonate. The flow from ECMO is gradually reduced as the baby’s body heals and begins to be self-sustaining.

Benny remained on ECMO for approximately 98 hours. He spent five weeks at Connecticut Children’s, including two weeks in the NICU and three weeks in the PICU. He also needed the help of a feeding tube for part of his stay.

Five month later, Ingrid reports that Benny, who was diagnosed with Trisomy 21, is doing just fine. “He’s feeding well and developing nicely,” she said. “He’s a happy young man who enjoyed meeting his extended family at Thanksgiving.”

As for the care her son received at Connecticut Children’s, Ingrid describes it as exceptional. “The care and outpouring of love in indescribable. I really only understood how sick Benny was when I saw the deep concern in the eyes of his doctors,” she said. “I know the staff made a difference. They are angels at Connecticut Children’s Medical Center.”