Augusta, GA (WJBF)- Front line workers are using every tool in their arsenal to battle COVID-19.

Two respiratory therapists at Augusta University Medical center took the initiative to get certified on the ECMO machine, which acts as an iron lung or heart. They say it’s a game changer for Covid patients.

Dr. Vijay Patel is an Associate Professor of Surgery at Augusta University

“So the ECMO machine is a machine that can help support the lungs and the heart, particularly in the advanced stages of failure, where there is a good chance that the patients lungs and or heart could recover,” said Patel.

An ECMO machine or Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation machine, is used for patients who are critically ill with heart or lung injuries. It helps to take stress off those organs while a patient recovers. This is not a new therapy, but it is only now being used to treat COVID patients.

The Children’s Hospital of Georgia has had a strong ECMO program for about thirty years but until now, there was no program for Adults. Two respiratory therapists at AUMC, Stephanie Robinson and Amy Cato wanted training on the machine for educational purposes. After the pandemic hit they were tapped to lead the Adult program.

Robinson said that the machine is critical in saving critical COVID patients, because the virus targets the lungs.

“And usually we’ve already maxed the ventilator support and the medications. So the very next step would be to offer the ECMO. For the patients that can go on ECMO,” said Robinson. “And then for some, it’s a life saving game changer. They can actually walk out of here and go home to their families.”

Robinson also said that because of the pandemic, there must be an ECMO Specialist in the room with the patient at all time. There are seven ECMO Specilists and they take turns sitting with patients for twelve hour shifts.

“And because they’re on for heart and/or lungs, every second is very important. You know we wear the double gloves, the eye goggles, the double masks, the gown, the shoe coverings. So if you’re not in the room and the pump stops, you have to put all that on. And that’s time, that’s wasted time to me that could be in the room actually saving the patient,” Robinson explained.

The Hospital says that the ECMO machines are very expensive and they are hoping to acquire more of them soon.