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Cardiac arrest survivors are saved with ECMO technology | Here's how ECMO works

Only six hospitals in San Diego County have the ability to place patients on ECMO support, according to the National Institute of Health.

SAN DIEGO — Millions watched as Buffalo Bills’ Damar Hamlin suffered cardiac arrest during a football game. Medics rushed to perform CPR. He is on the path to recovery, but that isn’t always the case for everyone.

San Diegans Diane McGrogan and Selam Tesfalidet do not know each other, but they share something in common with Hamlin.

"I heard heavy beating in my chest. I've never heard that before," said Tesfalidet. 

"I walked up to the ER and dropped dead at the front door," said McGrogan.

They both suffered sudden cardiac arrests unexpectedly.

They are active people that lead healthy lifestyles, so it was a shocking moment when McGrogan felt subtle chest pains and collapsed at the Sharp Memorial’s ER doors.

Tesfalidet, who runs and bikes everyday, suddenly felt heavy chest pains, so his son rushed him to the hospital.

Thanks to Sharp Memorial’s Dr. Arvin Narula and other medical staff, both of their lives were saved.

The team of medical professionals rushed to give them CPR and used something that they call ECMO, Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation, a form of life support that keeps the blood moving through the body for people who are in cardiac or respiratory failure.

"Honestly, they are miracles," said Dr. Narula.

ECMO has only been widely adapted for usage for adults in the last five years.

Only six hospitals in San Diego County have the ability to place patients on ECMO support, according to the National Institute of Health. It costs $5,000 per day or more depending on the hospital. 

Dr. Narula says it takes a special skill set for staff to get trained and many hours of training to manage.

He says they are working on bringing ECMO technology to Chula Vista hospitals soon since he says patients are dying there due to lack of access to ECMO machines.

"If you look at each case, without stuff we had today, they wouldn’t be around," said Dr. Narula.

"In a way you feel hopeless, my chapter would have been closed. They said I was one of the luckiest ones," said Tesfalidet.

"I'm trying not to cry. I was probably the luckiest girl in the world that day," said McGrogan. "Oh my God, I owe them my life. I was in the right place at the right time. I can't thank Sharp enough."

Dr. Narula says CPR keeps people alive so they are a candidate for this technology. He emphasizes how critical it is for everyone in the community to learn CPR.

You can easily get CPR certified by visiting the American Heart Association's web page or by signing up for this course on the CPR San Diego website.

McGrogan and Tesfalidet met for the first time and were reunited with Dr. Narula. They all embraced in hugs and shed some tears.

After rounds of therapy, they are back to doing their favorite things. Dr. Narula even took Tesfalidet to a Lakers game and McGrogan got married

They continue to live life to the fullest thanks to this life-saving technology and to those who know how to do CPR.

"Having a second chance, not many people get that," said MGrogan.

Watch Related: Former San Diego Chargers players react after Damar Hamlin suffers cardiac arrest on the field (Jan 3, 2023)

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