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A leisure visit to Nashville forever changed an ECMO patient’s life

Susan Grossklaus, a 66-year-old Michigan native, was excited about seeing the sights with her son in Nashville when she suddenly went into cardiac arrest at the Nashville airport.

January 30, 2023
TriStar Centennial ECMO patient shares how her visit to Nashville changed her life

Susan Grossklaus, a 66-year-old Michigan native, was excited about seeing the sights with her son in Nashville when she suddenly went into cardiac arrest at the Nashville airport. “I didn’t even make it past baggage claim. Within minutes I was being attended to by Nashville Fire with an AED device. I was told they shocked my heart six times before transporting me to TriStar Southern Hills,” Susan said.

Susan’s care team quickly recognized that her heart was not responding to the conventional life-saving treatment. Due to her symptoms of acute pulmonary failure and cardiogenic shock, the team decided it was best to see if she may be a candidate for Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) and worked with the heart and vascular team at TriStar Centennial Medical Center for a seamless transition of care and the best chance of survival. Susan stated that although she does not remember every moment, “I do know that I could not have been in better hands and felt a sense of comfort and peace every step of my journey.”

To be a candidate for ECMO, an individual must be facing acute heart and/or lung failure and be unresponsive to conventional therapies. Susan was facing profound acute pulmonary failure. “When a patient’s heart and/or lungs are failing to such a degree that these organs can no longer support the body, technology has allowed us to pump and oxygenate blood outside the body to support the function of the heart and lungs using a process called ECMO,” says Dr. Meghan Breed, TriStar Centennial Critical Care Medicine.

The heart and vascular team at TriStar Centennial traveled quickly to TriStar Southern Hills to initiate Susan on ECMO before the transfer, which is crucial when time is of the essence. Susan was then air transported by SkyLife, the TriStar Health air ambulance, that is equipped so ECMO specialists can begin treatment prior to landing at the hospital. “A patient’s outcome depends on the timely recognition of cardiogenic shock. The earlier a patient can get to a center with advanced mechanical capabilities, the more likely they are to survive,” said Dr. Sage Whitmore, TriStar Centennial Critical Care Medicine.

Once at Centennial, Susan spent 18 days on ECMO, giving her a fighting chance to recover by replicating lung function outside the body and giving her heart a chance to rest. Susan said her care went beyond the specialized machines and the high-level expertise of doctors and nurses. “The way they not only took care of me but the way they took care of my family and answered every question in a way my family could understand,” Susan stated. “The team was by my side and also my family’s side every step of the way. I have never experienced a more caring team in my life.”

With around-the-clock care to monitor her heart and lungs for progress, Susan eventually was on the road to recovery and discharged to a rehabilitation center in Nashville. She is extremely grateful for each individual who had a hand in her recovery. “The nurses even came down to sit with me in discharge while I waited for my daughter to pick me up. They cared for me so much, and I could not thank them enough.” Susan is now back home and healthy in Michigan. She credits the first responders at the airport, the TriStar Southern Hills ER team, the TriStar Centennial ECMO team, and ICU nurses for saving her life. She says MRI technicians, transporters and discharge nurses all made such a difference during her stay.

“Being from Michigan and not Tennessee, the one thing that had me at ease with the unknown was the love I was shown and the fact that there was a dedicated ECMO team,” Susan said. “There was no question that they knew what they were doing and were solely focused on my specific recovery process.”

January 30, 2023
TriStar Centennial Medical Center