In July 2012, when Drew Thorstenson was two months old, he was admitted to Lurie Children’s with respiratory distress and bilateral pleural effusions, which occur when there is excess water around the lungs. Ten days after Drew was admitted, the care team told his mom Katie that a more drastic form of treatment would be needed to save Drew. At that point, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) was Drew’s only shot at survival. ECMO is a life-support machine for patients with severe lung or heart issues. An artificial heart and lung machine temporarily takes over to supply blood to the child’s body. Though it sounded like an extreme option, Katie agreed to try it.
Drew was on ECMO for seven days. It was overwhelming for Katie to see her new baby in such dire circumstances, but the ECMO team from the Division of General Pediatric Surgery, led by Marleta Reynolds, MD, and the nursing staff always tried to make Katie and her husband feel as comfortable as possible. The Thorstensons often stayed at the Ronald McDonald House near Lurie Children’s to make their trips back and forth to the hospital more manageable.
After seven days, the surgery team took Drew off of ECMO and began using different methods to help improve his condition. Drew has a condition called Noonan’s syndrome, which made it hard to predict how he would respond to certain treatments, but doctors slowly and steadily introduced new treatments. After spending three months in the hospital, Drew was released with feeding tubes that he used for nine months, and his breathing was routinely monitored. Eventually, the doctors weaned Drew off of the tubes and any other devices he had.
Today Drew is a happy and active 3-year-old. He’s doing so well that many of the doctors who have treated him are surprised to hear that he was ever on ECMO.
When asked if there’s anything she would want other parents with children coming off of ECMO to know, Katie says, “Just know that it gets better and easier with time. There’s light at the end of the tunnel.” Little Drew is certainly proof.