Children at Heaven's Door - ECMO Survivors: Tyler's Story

July 17, 2015

In May 1992, Tyler Reineke was born at a Chicago-area hospital via Caesarian Section. He was immediately diagnosed with 100% meconium aspiration syndrome. Meconium aspiration happens when a newborn infant breathes in a mixture of meconium and amniotic fluid (the fluid in which the baby floats inside the mother). Doctors soon decided his case was serious enough to need a form of life support called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO). ECMO is a life-support machine for patients with severe lung or heart issues. It is a form of cardiopulmonary bypass in which an artificial heart and lung machine temporarily takes over to supply blood to the child’s body.

Because ECMO is such a complex treatment method, it was only available at a few hospitals at the time – Children’s Memorial Hospital, now known as Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, being one of them. Tyler was taken to Children’s Memorial via ambulance. His neonatologist accompanied his during the transport, bagging him continuously. Bagging is a process where oxygen is forced into the lungs of a patient who cannot breathe on their own. Immediately upon arriving at Children’s Memorial, the ECMO team in the Division of General Pediatric Surgery, led by Marleta Reynolds, MD, put Tyler on the ECMO machine.

The joy of the birth of their child quickly became survival mode as both parents and medical staff worked feverishly in an attempt to save his life. The parent’s hardest moment came when the Children’s Memorial chaplain requested that the parents name the infant for him to receive last rights. Tyler was named because of the need for a name on his death certificate, not on his birth certificate. After being on ECMO for the then maximum of 10 days, Tyler was “trialed-off.” This is the procedure where the blood flow is shut off, and the infant is forced to breathe on their own for the first time. Tyler failed his first trial but succeeded on his second attempt.

Tyler spent his first 30 days after birth at Children’s Memorial. He was healthy enough to go home for the first time, though he had to be fed through feeding tubes for several weeks. He then underwent a long recovery process. One of his most difficult adjustments was darkness, which he had never experienced during his first month of life.

Tyler’s parents struggled with inadequate educational resources caring for a critically ill newborn.

Tyler is now 23 years old and is entering the working world. For each of the last 22 years, Tyler and his parents, Lynn and John, have attended the annual ECMO Reunion held at Lurie Children’s to thank Dr. Marleta Reynolds for saving Tyler’s life. “It’s a way to show our appreciation for the work that Dr. Reynolds and the whole ECMO team did during that time. Without them, Tyler wouldn’t have survived. We’ll always be grateful.”