Eric White began New Year’s Day 2016 as many did, feeling a little tired and run-down from celebrating the evening before. Yet, within 24 hours, the previously healthy 39-year-old would be fighting for breath — and his life.
A healthy Eric White stands in the middle of care team members Kevin Miller, MD; Misty Sieracki, RN; Tristan Huie, MD; Stephanie Wilson, MD; Kathy Owens, BSN, RN; and Ken Lyn-Kew, MD.
“I figured I’d lie on the couch for a couple days and be fine,” White said. However, instead of getting better, he got worse. That’s what sent him to the emergency room on the National Jewish Health | Saint Joseph Hospital campus. This lifesaving move took the combined efforts of an extraordinary team of physicians and nurses from both institutions working seamlessly together.
National Jewish Health pulmonologists and critical care physicians manage and staff the intensive care unit at Saint Joseph Hospital as part of the joint operating agreement between National Jewish Health and Saint Joseph Hospital, a part of the nonprofit SCL Health system. National Jewish Health Pulmonologist Vipin Malik, MD, was the attending physician when White was admitted to the intensive care unit. He quickly put White on a ventilator to help him breathe.
“We rarely see patients who get this sick so fast,” said Dr. Malik, who stayed at White’s bedside for 10 hours straight.
White was suffering from acute respiratory distress syndrome caused by a virulent bacterial infection that attacked his lungs. With only 10 percent of a functioning lung and fluid flooding into his lungs, a standard ventilator did not provide the oxygen White needed to survive.
Dr. Malik called Kevin Miller, MD, a cardiothoracic surgeon at Saint Joseph Hospital. Together, they put White on extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), an extreme measure typically used only briefly in operating rooms to serve as both heart and lungs for a failing patient.
A host of National Jewish Health and Saint Joseph Hospital doctors and nurses constantly monitored White and the ECMO machine. At one point, National Jewish Health pulmonologist Tristan Huie, MD, took White on a lifesaving “road trip” to the hospital’s interventional radiology unit, where Saint Joseph physicians stopped the bleeding caused by a feeding tube.
White was taken off ECMO after three and a half weeks and was finally breathing on his own again. “We were just elated with the outcome,” said National Jewish Health Pulmonologist Michael Schwartz, MD, who was part of White’s care team. “It was a team effort.”
Today, White has almost completely recovered. “I got sick,” he said. “I got better because a lot of smart and caring people took care of me. Sometimes the ball bounces your way.