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From CPR to ECMO: A Story of Saving Lives and Inspiring Careers

“I Want to Help Save Lives”

An individual can have many reasons to choose a healthcare career. Perhaps it is a family legacy, or a parental expectation that we decide to honor. Maybe it is a calling into a particular field of medicine – like obstetrics because we love babies, or geriatrics because we see the changing needs of our grandparents as they age. Or, perhaps we just have a dream of making a difference, of impacting lives, of maybe even saving lives.

For SpecialtyCare’s Rich Piekutowski, ECMO Coordinator, and Kim Group, ECMO Specialist, saving lives is definitely an on-the-job possibility. Together, with others from SpecialtyCare and the hospital staff at the University of Pittsburgh Medical Center of Central Pennsylvania (UPMC Harrisburg), they recently had the opportunity to help save the life of one of their own, and to influence the potential career path of a brave and grateful daughter.

It was Christmas day, and Ed, an emergency room nurse at UPMC West Shore, had worked his shift, come home, had a meal, and was settling in to the rest of the day when he went into cardiac arrest. His 20-year-old daughter, Ellie, who had received CPR training as a college athlete, went into action, moving her father to the floor and beginning what turned out to be an amazing nine minutes of CPR compressions–more than a thousand compressions per later calculations–far more than trained hospital workers typically do, as they switch off with others every two minutes. Ellie’s CPR raised her dad’s chances of survival, but he was still in very critical condition.

Ed was taken to UPMC West Shore, but the most specialized equipment and people for the urgent care he needed were at UPMC Harrisburg. Because he was too unstable to transfer, the UPMC Harrisburg cardiac team was quickly consulted by phone, and knowing that Ed was in a critical situation, they went into action.

“I got a request from the surgeons who were consulting with UPMC West Shore to come join a call,” said Rich. “I listened in, and clearly the patient was in a critical condition. We consulted and agreed on urgent treatment options. I then called our on-staff SpecialtyCare perfusionist, Fareez Imtiaz, and together we quickly scoured the hospital for an ECMO transport bag. I tossed some extra items in the bag and sent it with Fareez, and the cardiac team set off to the other hospital for emergency treatment. The remote team was able to stabilize Ed and get him transferred to UPMC Harrisburg. After providing some follow-up care, I then left him in the continuing care of our ECMO Specialists, Kim Group and Tony Weber.”

Kim provided a lot of Ed’s bedside care over the next few days.

“I got to know the family very well,” she shared. “His daughter, Ellie, asked me a lot of questions about ECMO and his care. I learned she was enrolled in an engineering program at her university, so after hearing her questions I asked her one day, ‘Why engineering? Did you ever consider healthcare?’  I knew she had the drive and motivation to be an amazing healthcare provider. Not everyone can just jump in and react like she did with her father. She shared that she was already thinking in that direction and had just gotten her first healthcare job at another local hospital.  She wants the ability to help patients, and maybe even to save lives. It gives me goosebumps.”

“This was an amazing experience for me,” said Richard. “An almost exactly same scenario happened to me about 15 years before, with the same outcome. And this is why I come to work, and it’s why I do what I do.”

“Any particular situation can go either way,” added Kim. “Some patients make it and others don’t, even after a long ECMO run. It can be discouraging at times but, with this experience, my reason for continuing in healthcare and within ECMO has been reaffirmed. I just have a feeling of happiness and gratitude that we could help him get back to his family. I know am in the right place and I will continue to provide extraordinary care.”

Interested in an ECMO Career at SpecialtyCare?

Both Rich and Kim began their healthcare careers working in the respiratory field before moving into ECMO. Rich specialized in exotic ventilation techniques and processes, along with a bit of ECMO work. After getting to conduct some research in a shared lab space at a local university hospital’s artificial heart lab, he knew he wanted to move forward in ECMO. Kim was a respiratory therapist who worked at SpecialtyCare with Rich, who had become an invested mentor in her career. After Rich moved into ECMO full-time, he encouraged Kim to apply for a PRN ECMO specialist position. She accepted the challenge and today says that, hands down, moving to ECMO has been the best career decision she ever made.

Are you looking for a place where you can help save lives, like Rich and Kim? Contact us today to learn more about our ECMO opportunities, and how to join our team.