ECMO Survivors: Jessica's Story

July 15, 2015

On March 25, 2002, Jessica Lopez was born 10 days late at Prentice Women’s Hospital through an emergency C-section. Soon after birth, she was diagnosed with a severe case of 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).

Soon the doctors told Judy Lopez and her husband that they needed to transfer Jessica to Children's Memorial Hospital, now Ann & Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago, to be put on 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. When the Lopez family realized what the doctors were recommending, they were understandably nervous. “It was a very scary time,” Judy says.

Jessica stayed on ECMO for four nerve-racking days, and after additional follow-up care from the ECMO team, she was eventually discharged on April 8, 2002. After her hospital stay, Judy brought Jessica in for regular check-ups with a variety of specialists to make sure Jessica was hitting all of her developmental milestones on time. In addition to the speech therapy and physical therapy Jessica underwent, the ECMO team had their own specific set of follow-up guidelines for the Lopez family to follow. Judy made sure Jessica made it to all of her appointments, and, aside from a temporary speech delay between the ages of 2 and 5, Jessica was healthy throughout her early childhood.

When asked what it’s like to watch a child experience what Jessica has, Judy says, “You always worry about whether your child will recover from something as intense as ECMO, but the staff at the hospital always helped ease my fears. They were always available to answer my questions and were really easy to get a hold of. Being easy to talk to is so important in a situation like that.”

Today Jessica is a healthy, intelligent and promising 13-year-old. She’s on the honor roll at school and a STEM Scholar. Jessica recently earned the gold medal at the City of Chicago Science Fair, and then she went all the way to the finals in the Illinois State Science fair – she received second place and the silver medal out of 120 of the brightest science students in Illinois. Someday she hopes to be a computer engineer. Given the strength and resolve she has shown since she was a baby coming off of ECMO, we can only imagine what great opportunities the future holds for her.