Ten years ago, Ralph Berry was relaxing on his couch when he began to feel extreme jaw pain. His wife, Suzette, immediately called 911 for an ambulance and Ralph was rushed to the Emergency Department at Sharp Memorial Hospital. While in the ambulance he experienced a cardiac arrest — his heart stopped.
Ralph was close to death when he arrived at the hospital.
To save his life, Dr. Joseph Bellezzo and Dr. Zack Shinar, both emergency medicine doctors affiliated with Sharp Memorial, tried a treatment called venoarterial extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (VA-ECMO), which had never been attempted in an emergency situation.
The procedure involved placing two tubes in a large vein and one in a large artery — all performed at Ralph’s bedside. The tubes rerouted blood from his body, removing carbon dioxide and adding oxygen, and then filtering it through a machine that does the work of the lungs and heart.