Thanks to a Last Resort Lifesaving Technology

Andrew Vargas is a 15-year-old resident of Mustang who was recently diagnosed with a life-threatening autoimmune disease called Wegener’s Granulomatosis, which affects less than 0.6 in 1 million children. Wegener’s causes inflammation of the blood vessels and this inflammation restricts blood flow to various organs, often affecting kidneys, lungs, and upper respiratory tract.
Vargas recently experienced a life or death situation requiring extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, known as ECMO, as a last resort lifesaving technique.
Before his hospital stay, Vargas was thriving and doing what he enjoys most. In late May, he had participated in a three day piano festival in Denver, Colo., where creative pianists come from across the United States to show their proficiency in piano and composition. He placed first in all categories he competed in and received the highest honor of the festival, The Artist Pianist Award because of his demonstration of mature musical artistry.
An article ran in the Oklahoman with a quote from judges at the event, who said Andrew Vargas has “a wonderful sense of harmonic color, spectacular scales, and performed an exciting and impressive program.”
But things soon turned grave for Vargas. In June of this year, he was hospitalized in the pediatric intensive care unit at INTEGRIS Baptist Medical Center. His situation was dire; he was dying, and there was nothing else the pediatric team could do.
Aly El Banayosy, M.D., a transplant and acute circulatory support critical care physician with the INTEGRIS Advanced Cardiac Care team, was called in to see if Vargas was a candidate for ECMO therapy.
ECMO provides both cardiac and respiratory support oxygen to patients whose heart and/or lungs are so severely diseased or damaged that they can no longer serve their function, perhaps after a heart attack, cardio surgery, pulmonary embolism, near drowning, or lung-related issues such as flu or pneumonia.
The therapy continually pumps blood from the patient via a tube inserted into the groin vessels or neck vein. The blood goes through a membrane oxygenator that imitates the gas exchange process of the lung, removing carbon dioxide and adding oxygen, before returning the blood to the patient.
The goal is to allow the heart or lungs to rest and recover while the machine does all the work.
When the heart or the lungs have healed and can work on their own, the lifesaving support of the ECMO artificial heart/lung machine is gradually removed.
Vargas was put on ECMO on July 3, within an hour of being examined by Banayosy. Both the ECMO and the PICU teams at INTEGRIS worked together to provide the most comprehensive care Vargas could receive.
He spent many crucial days on support with no one really knowing what the future would hold. There were times when no one thought he was going to make it. Wegener’s disease had taken over his lungs and the only reason he survived was because the ECMO support was artificially providing the oxygen his body needed, that his lungs could not provide. His parents were at his bedside day and night praying for a miracle.
That miracle came on July 30 when his lungs were finally strong enough to function on their own. Vargas was removed from the ECMO machine and his parents rejoiced and were thankful that this technology was available at INTEGRIS when their son needed it. He was discharged from the hospital almost a month later on Aug. 27.
Because of this life saving technology, Vargas is back to doing what he loves: playing the piano and composing. His passion is evident, and his greatest joy is being able to continue to share it with others. With the help of INTEGRIS and the support of his family, he will be able to continue playing beautiful music for years to come. Another bonus is that he will be spending Thanksgiving at home with his family as he prepares for his upcoming recital in December. Something that would not have happened without the ECMO.