Severe flu season puts strain on ECMO machines at area hospitals

KANSAS CITY, Mo. - It has been a severe flu season.

This year, a particular strain of the flu sent dozens to area hospitals in critical condition.

The flu can be serious for anyone, not just the very old or very young. One family learned that the hard way.

Jeanice Brown's husband, Alan, came down with the flu in December. She thought, “It's the flu, it's just the flu.”

Then Alan came down with pneumonia and finally respiratory failure.

“I had to call my children home to tell them their dad was going to pass because that's where we thought we were at and that's a horrible phone call to have to make,” Brown explained.

At 52, Brown said Alan was a young and healthy non-smoker.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), this flu season hit younger and middle-aged adults hard.

People between 18-64 represented 61 percent of all hospitalizations from the flu.

But the ECMO or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machine at St. Luke’s Hospital saved Alan’s life. Only one other area hospital has ECMO machines.

It's for the sickest of the sick.

The machine acts as the lungs by putting oxygen in the blood.

“Then it pumps it back in so his lungs don't have to work and it gives them an opportunity to rest and heal,” explained Brown.

This year, the ECMO machines were in high demand. At times, all six were in use.

However, it all could have been avoided.

“There are people dying from the flu,” Brown said. “It's all preventable if they just get the flu shot. I tell you, he'll get the flu shot next year.”

So far, Alan has spent 52 days in the ICU, but Jeanice said doctors expect him to recover after months of recovery.

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