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COVID ECMO patients at WVU Medicine trending younger

MORGANTOWN, W.Va. — The doctor that heads up the program that treats the sickest of the sick COVID-19 patients in West Virginia says the number of patients continues to increase.

Dr. Jeremiah Hayanga

Dr. Jeremiah Hayanga, a thoracic surgeon and director of WVU Medicine’s ECMO treatment program said Thursday on MetroNews “Talkline” their patients are trending younger.

“We’re seeing what a lot of the other states saw in late-June or early-July, an influx of patients, predominately the unvaccinated younger patients who are sick, very, very sick,” Hayanga said.

Hospitalizations of COVID patients are increasing across the state. The state Department of Health and Human Resources said Thursday there were 289 patients statewide, the most since Feb. 23. Hayanga said the ECMO treatment is the last line of defense.

“As these hospitalizations go up (across the state) the severity is more reflected in what we see,” he said. “The patients are sicker and then they are put on a ventilator and when that fails they come to us.”

Hayanga described ECMO, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, as a process where “we drain the blood, pump oxygen into it and then return it to the body.”

He said WVU Medicine has one of the highest ECMO treatment success rates in the country.

Hayanga said the growth of COVID cases is occurring nationwide.

“States with the lowest vaccination rates are seeing the highest number of new (cases) and the numbers are staggering,” he said. “Ninety-thousand infections a day, 8,000 hospitalizations a day, over 400 deaths per day and this is new,” he said.

Those who make a recovery after being treated with ECMO in Morgantown have changed some of their thoughts about being vaccinated, Hayanga said.

“Uniformally, to a person, each of them has declared that they wished, they hoped, that they had gotten vaccinated because that would have given them some solace that they would have had a less turbulent course of illness and may have even prevented it altogether,” Hayanga said.