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$11.7 million grant brings three life-saving devices to Nevada

LAS VEGAS, Nev. (FOX5) – Medical technology saves lives every day – but the tech can’t make a difference if patients can’t get access to it.

Now, thanks to the Helmsley Charitable Foundation, Las Vegas has not only one but two devices that can help ensure people’s survival should they fall gravely ill from conditions affecting their heart and lungs. It’s called “ECMO” and one local patient says it saved her life.

Daniel Rodriguez recalls the days before ECMO came to St. Rose Dominican Hospital.

“We had to cut and paste pieces and build it and I went to the administration and said we need real equipment, we need this stuff.”

Rodriguez is a cardiovascular perfusionist, meaning he’s an expert at Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation, or ECMO for short.

“Essentially what it is, is an external cardiac device that we use to support the cardiovascular system of a patient when the patient’s heart is actually not working well, or the lungs, or a combination of both,” he tells us.”

He explains how it works.

“This here is the artificial heart, and it pulls the blood out of the patient, it pushes it through here, which is the artificial lung, and then pushes it back into the patient’s vascular system, essentially acting as the patient’s official heart and lungs outside of the body.”

ECMO is reserved for the very sickest of patients – those least suited to traveling for treatment – but the device not widely accessible in Nevada until Tuesday when the Helmsley Charitable Foundation awarded the state more than 11 million dollars to purchase three. One will go to St. Rose, another to UMC. A third will be placed at a Renown Health facility in Reno.

“We are more than doubling the capacity of ECMO beds in Nevada, which means we will be able to treat more patients in Nevada and not send them out of state,” says Walter Panzirer, a trustee with the Helmsley Trust. “Care is always best when it’s kept local and you gotta remember these are the sickest patients and transporting them is not a good option, but it’s the only option.”

“ECMO’S amazing! I wouldn’t be alive today without ECMO.”

Spencer Fenner faced a health crisis last summer.

“It started with an asthma attack, or what I thought was an asthma attack…” they share.

“Nothing was working, nothing was working. And eventually, I got admitted to the hospital, I’m still not able to breathe. I ended up having a seizure, and I was intubated, “ Fenner recalls.

“They put me in a medically-induced coma and started making phone calls, and those phone calls were to anyone that could save me at 25 years old.”

Fortunately, a portable ECMO was both in town and available.

“I was transported hours later to Sienna Hospital, where they put me on ECMO for about 36 hours, and in 36 hours they were able to save my life,” they share. “I would say about two or three weeks later I could walk up and down stairs comfortably again, carrying groceries, everything really went back to normal. Today I feel better than I did before.”

Rodriguez tells FOX5, ECMO’s a life-saver, and today’s grant – a game-changer.

“This machine is extremely efficient, it’s able to pump enough volume, enough fluid of blood, and exchange that fluid in that oxygenator to sustain a patient’s life for months if necessary,” he says. “This is a huge day to be supported by the Helmsley Foundation to get this grant, absolutely huge. This is great for Las Vegas.”