Artificial lung treatment saves Arizona man's life while battling COVID-19

A Valley father was on the verge of death while fighting COVID-19 in the hospital but a procedure that essentially gave him an artificial lung ultimately saved his life.

Ryan Parker, a 38-year-old father of two was in the hospital for a total of 134 days. He beat the virus and he attributes it to a last-chance treatment and the team of doctors who performed it.

He contracted COVID-19 in early July and at first, he had flu-like symptoms and shortness of breath. However, he quickly deteriorated and his lungs began to hemorrhage.

The team of doctors at St. Joseph’s Hospital worked to stop the bleeding as they found clots in his heart and embolisms on his lungs.

"I actually had to make a video saying goodbye to my family," Parker said.

The team of doctors put Parker on a ventilator and after going through an exhaustive list of treatments, they found him to be eligible for a treatment called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO).

"The people that qualify for it are severely ill. Those patients are usually on a ventilator and they have been on a ventilator for quite some time. This is their last-ditch resort," explained Dr. Chirag Patel, a thoracic surgeon at St. Joseph’s Norton Thoracic Institute.

Patel is one of the doctors that treated Parker and says ECMO is a treatment that basically behaves like a lung and allows the patient's real lung to recover and heal.

"This is 100% life-saving in terms of Ryan's case, this was the only modality he had. If it weren’t for ECMO, he would not be alive today," Patel said.

Parker was on ECMO for 84 days. He surpassed the average time a patient is on it, which is usually three weeks. "It was pretty crazy to go to sleep in July and wake up in September, but Dr. Patel was there when I woke up," he remembered.

It's been a long journey for Parker, but he finally left the hospital in November. He's thankful to be alive, to be a father and a husband thanks to the team of doctors at St. Joseph’s.

"It is pretty incredible. It was basically an artificial lung for me. I am just thankful they had the technology available," Parker said.

Learn more about the treatment here.