It has been a brutal start to the flu season. People who thought it was just another cold are quickly finding themselves in a life and death situation.
Some flu patients are even having to rely on an ECMO machine to keep them alive. The flu season this year is so severe, it's putting a strain on the number of these specialized machines in Valley hospitals.
ECMO stands for Extra Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation. The machine puts oxygen in a patient's blood and then pumps it to the heart. It's viewed by doctors as one of the last things they can do to help someone suffering from the flu.
Valley hospitals report that almost all of the machines are being used because of how bad the flu is this year.
The ECMO machine is the highest level of life support and CBS 5 News has learned that hospitals in the Valley are talking to one another to make sure the life saving machines are available for those who need them.
Gayle Maxwell's husband James arrived at Banner Good Samaritan Hospital last week suffering from the flu.
"We are trying to save his life, it's at that point," she said.
James Maxwell was on a ventilator before being put on the ECMO.
"We don't know, we don't know minute to minute and it's all basically up to his body whether he is going to pull through this or not," she adds.
James Maxwell is hooked up to the machine every minute of the day. It takes his blood out, provides oxygen and it goes right back in, directly into his heart.
Dr. Robert Raschke is a lead physician regarding the flu outbreak at Banner Good Samaritan Hospital.
"In the last month, we have had eight people on ECMO for the flu," says Dr. Raschke. "We've never seen anything like that before."
Like Good Samaritan, other Valley hospitals are at or near capacity for the ECMO machine. Hospitals are communicating about available machines and CBS 5 News has learned of at least one flu patient who was moved from Flagstaff to Tucson to get on ECMO.
"We are hoping to not have our capacity reached, and we are hoping that people go out and get vaccinated and it won't come to that; that would be the best solution for this," said Dr. Raschke.
In James Maxwell's case, he did not get a flu shot and that is something his wife says could have made a world of difference.
"It's a $30 shot as opposed to hundreds of thousand of dollars to try to save your life, that is basically what we are at now," says Gayle.
There are 15 to 20 ECMO machines in the Valley. As of today, most are being used.
Machines at Phoenix Children's Hospital could be used for adult patients if needed.
Patients are usually on the machines for two to four weeks and usually require more hospital time to continue to recover.
Copyright 2014 CBS 5 (KPHO Broadcasting Corporation). All rights reserved.
Sunday, August 31 2014 3:28 PM EDT2014-08-31 19:28:29 GMT
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