It was a regular day on the job for Deputy Tom McClelland, with a little more excitement than usual: officers were set to serve a search warrant on a Miller County, Mo. home. With an ambulance parked nearby in case of violence, they went in. Without incident, they completed the job – until 22-year-old McClelland dropped to the ground, apparently from cardiac arrest.
“The last thing I remember was serving that search warrant. I know I passed out once and woke up, but I passed out again. I don’t remember anything from the next three to four weeks.”
It’s a good thing the ambulance was nearby. Fellow officers and paramedics performed CPR all the way to the nearest hospital, where staff called for a helicopter. McClelland was headed to Mercy Hospital Springfield, the only facility in southwest Missouri that offered a treatment that gave him a chance at survival.
McClelland’s father, Ted, raced to Mercy where doctors told him his son was dying. Mercy cardiologist Dr. Lakshmi Parvathaneni knew McClelland’s heart had significant damage and was too injured to pump enough blood through his body. His only option was something called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation – or ECMO. Machines oxygenate a patient’s blood outside their body and pump it for them - giving their heart, lungs or both a chance to heal.
“It’s the world’s fanciest crutch,” explained Dr. Sunil Prasad, Mercy cardiac and thoracic surgeon. “Just like you would use a crutch to give a broken leg time to heal, this machine supports your body to give those vital organs time to heal. “
Mercy Hospital Springfield began offering ECMO in February of 2014, after a team of providers worked to get the right training, equipment and staff in place. Dr. Prasad arrived as the last piece of the puzzle, with the necessary expertise. Along with his experience as a successful heart transplant surgeon, Dr. Prasad has done countless ECMO procedures. The only problem was that he was out of town when Tom McClelland arrived at Mercy. So Dr. Parvathaneni called her husband, another Mercy cardiac and thoracic surgeon, to help. Dr. Sirish Parvathaneni raced to the hospital, making calls to assemble the ECMO team. Then he called Dr. Prasad for guidance.
“It was the middle of the night and Sirish needed me to walk him through placing the device. With his years of heart surgery experience, he knows all about the heart and how it works. He just hadn’t done this particular procedure. He was like someone who knows everything about an airplane but has never actually had to land it. Well, he landed it – perfectly.”
Placing the device was just one piece of the puzzle. “The hardest time was the second day,” said McClelland’s father. “Tom was still alive, but we knew his chance at survival was only about 30 percent. We had no idea if he’d suffered brain damage or would ever be the same.” Dr. Prasad arrived back in town to manage McClelland’s care and told the family that healing would take some time. For weeks, an entire team of intensive care doctors and specially-trained ECMO specialists, including nurses, respiratory therapists and perfusionists dedicated hours to McClelland’s care, while his parents stayed by his side.
Finally, the team started slowly weaning McClelland’s body off the oxygen to see if he could do the work himself. It looked like he could, so the time came to shut off the machine and take him out of his drug-induced coma. The first moments were tense for his parents.
“The first day they brought him out, he was obeying commands, so on top of being able to breathe on his own, we knew his brain was functioning,” said his father. “It was a huge relief and a shock – he’s just like he was before all this happened.”
That’s exactly how it seemed for McClelland. With no memory of anything after serving the search warrant, he woke up to hear how the actions of many had saved his life. “It’s a good thing that ambulance was close and part of our law enforcement training includes CPR,” he said. “Some of the guys have joked they never want to serve a search warrant with me again.” They may not want to, but they probably will. McClelland is back at work, although still on light duty.
“We don’t know why he had the cardiac arrest,” said Dr. Prasad. “There isn’t any family history or explanation. What we do know is the work our team did made it possible for him to get back to his life and to his important role in his community. We know he’ll take the care we gave him and pass it on to others for years to come.”
*Since beginning to offer the ECMO procedure in February 2014, nine Mercy Hospital Springfield patients have survived due to the new therapy. While it has different applications, ECMO is commonly used to treat lung conditions like viral pneumonia and or influenza – particularly H1N1, as well as heart failure. Timing is critical for these patients, so to expedite the process Mercy offers a single-line referral: 417-820-2738.