‘I was going to die’: ECMO machine credited with saving the most severe COVID-19 patients’ lives

ORANGE COUNTY, Fla. — For nearly six months, a 29-year-old man was in the hospital battling COVID-19.

He had no idea that was what it was because he had tested negative five times. But he quickly figured it out when he couldn’t breathe.

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As Orange County sees the highest total number of positive cases in a day, Piero Saenz cautions those who aren’t vaccinated to take the necessary steps to protect themselves.

READ: Florida hospitals seeing younger COVID-19 patients, fewer deaths in latest virus surge

Last July, Saenz tested positive for COVID-19. He had already passed his 14-day quarantine and didn’t feel that bad. In August, he started to feel worse and thought he had a different virus.

Saenz’s health quickly declined and he was admitted to a hospital and put on a ventilator.

Sixty-four days later, he was put on an Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation machine. He was sedated and for him, time stood still.

READ: Central Florida hospitals adjust for influx of COVID-19 patients

When he woke up, doctors gave him news he wasn’t ready to hear.

“They were really wanting me to get that transplant ‘cause they said if I don’t get that transplant I was going to die,” he said.

But he was not interested in a new set of lungs. After seven surgeries and a drive to fight, Saenz went home five months later, crediting the doctors at AdventHealth and the ECMO machine for saving his life.

READ: Coronavirus: FDA aims to give final OK to Pfizer vaccine by next month, report says

“Piero would have been dead without ECMO,” said Dr. Scott Silvestry.

The machine is a way to get oxygen and filter out carbon dioxide, used mostly for patients with lung and heart issues. 100 patients have been on it at AdventHealth and they have had a 65% success rate.

Today, Saenz still needs an oxygen tank and won’t ask when he might be able to live without it.

READ: How do you know if you have the delta variant; what are the symptoms?

“I already surpassed a lot of expectations,” he said.” I rather just continue to push myself and get better.”

Silvestry said those ventilators often cause long-term damage to the lungs because of the pressure. The ECMO machine is more gentle.

Saenz said his goal is to be able to run the block without using the machine.

Shannon Butler

Shannon Butler, WFTV.com

Shannon joined the Eyewitness News team in 2013.