As a San Diego firefighter-paramedic, Andrea "Dre" Dominguez has worked in plenty of dirty, dusty environments. So several years ago, when she felt like she was coming down with a cold, Dre thought it was just her turn in the office to get sick.
Her symptoms didn't improve. At work one day, Dominguez found it hard to breathe. She quickly realized this wasn't one of her normal asthma episodes. Dominguez had a history of mild allergy-induced asthma, usually triggered by contact with animals and easily managed with over-the-counter medications.
Saving the life of one who saves lives
"My condition got worse and worse once I got home," says Dominguez. "I told my roommate I needed to go to the ER immediately." Dominguez's roommate drove her to the Emergency Department at Sharp Memorial Hospital, where her health took a drastic turn.
Dominguez was diagnosed with severe asthma, but despite numerous attempts to treat her condition, she fell unconscious.
In a last-ditch effort to save Dominguez's life, her doctors placed her on a special lung bypass machine called veno-venous extracorporeal membrane oxygenation — or VV-ECMO — for 72 hours to give her lungs a chance to recover. The procedure involved cutting a hole in Dominguez's neck and inserting a catheter through her veins into her heart. The tube removed blood from Dominguez's body and filtered it through a machine, doing the work of the lungs. This was the first time an ECMO machine had been used on a patient with a severe asthma condition at Sharp Memorial.
Dominguez's team of dedicated critical care pulmonologists refused to give up on her, and their decision to use the ECMO machine ultimately saved her life. Her doctors included Dr. Thomas Lawrie, Dr. Richard Sacks and Dr. David Willms, who all played an important part in her recovery.
The road to an incredible recovery
After Dominguez's lungs recovered enough to remove the ECMO machine, she began a regimen of breathing treatments and physical therapy to help her learn how to swallow, sit, stand and walk again. She was told to expect 60 days in the hospital and 60 days of physical therapy, but Dominguez was in great physical shape and determined to get back on her feet. After only two weeks, she left the hospital and returned to work in four months.
Dominguez feels she would not have survived at another hospital. "I had phenomenal care at Sharp Memorial," she says. "The doctors performed a miracle, and I thank them every day for that."
Today, Dominguez is the City of San Diego's first permanent female helicopter rescue paramedic and the mother of a healthy baby boy, who was born at Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women & Newborns.
Dominguez says Sharp Memorial saved her life, and in return, she has been able to pay it forward by saving as many lives as she can as a firefighter-paramedic.
"Life is every moment," says Dominguez. "Sharp not only gave me the opportunity to enjoy more life but also the chance to have my son and to continue to give back to the community."