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Man watched as machine kept his brother alive during 65-day hospital stay

On Saturday, October 13, 2012, Ernest Hadzic suffered a massive heart attack. “Around 11:15 p.m., I heard a crash in the kitchen,” says his brother Ermin. “I went to the kitchen to find my brother lying on the floor. I knew it was a heart attack.” Ernest was taken to Piedmont Atlanta Hospital for treatment and was told his heart was weakened by three blockages. “I remember he was lying down on the bed and you could see all kinds of medications, like 20 different kinds,” says Ermin. “They tried to get his heart in rhythm, but his heart was not strong enough.”

A lifesaving machine

Ernest was put on an ECMO machine, which stands for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, to increase his chance of survival. ECMO provides support to both the heart and lungs when they can no longer function on their own. There are two types of ECMO: VA, or venoarterial, which supports the heart and the lungs; and VV, or venovenus, which is oxygenation support only for the lungs.

It is similar to the heart-lung machine used in open-heart surgery. Not many hospitals use life-saving ECMO therapy at the bedside; Piedmont is one of the few that does. “The ECMO machine – there are only 50 of them in the whole world – and we were lucky they had one at Piedmont Hospital,” says Ermin. “The machine cleans your blood, it pumps your heart. It’s an amazing machine – it saved his life.”

Ernest’s physicians lowered his body temperature for 48 hours so his heart and lungs could rest while he recovered. He remained on ECMO for 45 days and was in the hospital a total of 65 days, says his brother. “He went through a lot,” says Ermin. “He probably doesn’t remember his hospital stay, but I do and it will always be in my mind.”

For his part, Ernest is extremely grateful to the staff at Piedmont for saving his life. “I want to say thank you to the doctors, nurses and even the cleaning crew,” says Ernest. “Everybody was like, ‘There’s my favorite patient.’ They called me ‘Miracle Man.’ I’m really, really, from the bottom of my heart, appreciative for everything they did.”

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