Ventilator wasn’t enough to save him, but Aurora man survives coronavirus thanks to unique hospital machine

AURORA, Colo. (KDVR) – Friday was Robert Carver’s 50th birthday. A few weeks ago, his wife and doctors weren’t sure he’d live to see this day.

“Oh yeah, I call this chapter two. This is chapter two of my life. I went to my doctor today for my checkup, this is the first checkup that I’ve had since I’ve been out of the hospital. She said, ‘Did you know every organ in your body collapsed and was gone?’” Carver told FOX31.

Carver had acute respiratory distress and a host of other medical problems from a severe case of COVID-19. So doctors at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital used a technology with an astonishing success rate among the most serious coronavirus patients. It’s called an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, machine. Essentially, the machine removes blood from the patient’s vein and passes it through a device that adds oxygen.

Doctors describe it as “external lungs” for the body.

“This doesn’t really completely fix the problem in the lungs, but it allows the body to survive while lungs are healing and the body is healing,” said Dr. Muhammed Aftab, a cardiothoracic surgeon at UCHealth University of Colorado Hospital.

Carver was on the ECMO machine, in addition to a ventilator, while he fought the COVID-19 infection and recovered from severe hypoxia, or lack of oxygen.

“And had we not employed ECMO on him, his chances of mortality were extremely high,” Aftab said.

Aftab has been researching COVID-19 cases where ECMO was used, and he says some of the biggest coronavirus success stories have come about because of the technology. The ECMO machine has been in use by the hospital for about a decade, and has successfully treated severe flu cases as well as SARS and MERS victims.

So far, they’ve successfully used the ECMO on 16 patients at UCHealth, and 14 of those patients have recovered enough to be taken off the machine. Nearly half have already been released from the hospital.

Fifty is a milestone birthday for anyone. But this year’s celebration has extra meaning for the Carvers.

“I woke up this morning — I just hugged him and told him happy birthday, I told him this is the best birthday ever,” Chalice Carver, Robert’s wife, told FOX31.

Faith and family carried them through a life-and-death situation, along with more than a little help from science and medicine.

“It’s just incredible. It’s just a miracle,” Robert said.