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Shot at Point-Blank Range, ‘Miracle Man’ Thanks Memorial

Alex doesn't remember anything about his trip to Memorial Regional Hospital's Trauma Center that night in March 2007.

But he knows that when he got there, he was essentially dead on arrival.

Alex had been shot in the chest at point-blank range. To this day, he doesn't know who shot him or why. But the damage to his body was immense. The bullet had ripped through his right lung and his pulmonary artery.

Then Alex went into cardiac arrest, and there was only one course to take. Trauma surgeon Andrew Rosenthal, MD, opened Alex up, reached into his chest and manually massaged his stilled heart back to life.

"Okay, we've got a patient again," he said.

A Less Than 10 Percent Chance

Performing open cardiac massage in an emergency room setting is an extraordinary procedure –  used only in the direst circumstances. But it was just the first of many times that Alex came to the brink of death. "The odds were stacked against him from the very beginning," Dr. Rosenthal says. "To say that his condition was critical was an understatement."

Once the ER team got Alex's heart going again, they transferred him to the operating room and performed a pneumonectomy – removal of his damaged right lung. But things were not going well. Alex's remaining lung couldn't get oxygen to his blood, and he was going into multiple organ failure. His sister Adriana, who had arrived at the hospital with other family members that Saturday morning, remembers it vividly.

"The doctors had opened Alex from his chest down to his stomach and abdomen," she says. "He lost so much blood that he cleared out the hospital's blood bank to the point where they had to cancel elective surgeries scheduled for Monday."

The physicians told Alex's family that the prognosis was very grim. Even after that narrow escape in the ER, he still had a less than 10 percent chance of surviving.

ECMO to the Rescue

Then the doctors had an idea: Why not borrow an ECMO from Joe DiMaggio Children's Hospital?

The extra-corporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, machine is usually used on premature babies with critical heart and breathing problems. The ECMO provides enough oxygen to the blood while the heart and lungs attempt to heal.

Using an ECMO on an adult was an inspired idea, but even it was no guarantee Alex would Iive, Adriana says.

"It brought his chances up from less than 10 percent to maybe 30 or 40 percent," she says. "He was on it for a couple of days and it was touch and go. But by Thursday, almost a week after Alex was shot, the doctors told us, 'You know, we think he just might make it.'"

Alex was moved to the intensive care unit, where he spent three weeks in a coma as his body struggled to survive. His kidneys failed and he went on dialysis. He was so unstable that for a long time the doctors were unable to even close his wounds.

"He would take one step forward and two steps back," Adriana says. But Alex kept surprising everyone. He came off dialysis and went on a ventilator. Eventually, he came off the ventilator as well.

In the Right Place at the Right Time

"Alex's circumstances were perfect as far as where he was brought," Dr. Rosenthal says. "The kind of injury Alex had kills about 99 out of 100 people every time, but we had all the resources available to pull him through."

Alex and his family know that without the extraordinary efforts of the Memorial staff, he would not be alive today. With approximately 100 people devoted to his care – the trauma staff, the ECMO and dialysis teams, ICU nurses, respiratory technicians, physicians' assistants, medical students –  it was a true team approach.

"Without the ECMO, and the care I received from everyone at Memorial, I would have died," Alex says. "The attention I got at Memorial was incredible."

As a nuclear medicine technologist, Alex's sister Adriana had extensive experience in healthcare. She was incredibly impressed with the Memorial team.

"The level of expertise that we experienced at Memorial Regional Hospital's Trauma Center and ICU is incomparable," she says. "It's rare to find a group of people with such a high level of professionalism, combined with an innate sense of humanity. We feel blessed."

‘The Miracle Man’

Today Alex is recovered and back at work. He likes to spend time with his wife and his sons, go out on his boat and go fishing. His family calls him "the miracle man." But he says that with a wound that in nearly all cases would have proven fatal, the true miracle was this:

Where he ended up that fateful night saved his life.

"I was taken to Memorial because it was nearby," he says. "I was so lucky to be there. I was DOA –  but Memorial gave me the chance to live."

"Rarely is everything perfect in healthcare," says Dr. Rosenthal. "But in this case, it was."


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