How ECMO saved a Doctor’s life – An Interview with Dr. Vishal Sardhara (Janvi Multispeciality Hospital)

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Hello, it has been two years now. Exactly on 21st September 2020, The Times Of India featured a story of Dr Vishal Sardhara. Dr Vishal was just 29 years old at that time and suffered from COVID and multiple other medical conditions.

Dr Vishal Sardhara is a young, energetic, intelligent and dynamic person who heads a team of five super speciality and multispeciality hospitals in Vadodara.

During the second phase of COVID, the doctors didn’t even have time to breathe but now the situation is much under control.

So we got a chance to have a ‘real quick’ interview session with Dr Vishal and we hope our readers benefit from it.

So here’s the gist of our ‘quick’ interview with Dr Vishal Sardhara – Who has returned from the jaws of death (with a special focus on what he learnt from all it.)

Me: Hello Dr Vishal. How’s life after COVID, especially after the ‘serious’ conditions that you faced?

Dr Vishal: Well, life is back to normal again. That was a phase that taught important lessons to me. I believe life is constantly teaching us many things. It is just that we need to have that outlook towards it to learn and move ahead.

As you might be knowing, I head five different super speciality and multispeciality hospitals. Handling it requires a lot of skill. VMC had notified a list of hospitals for COVID treatments earlier in which all of our five hospitals were shortlisted.

Myself being a doctor, could not stay away from all this. Despite the best safeguards, I got the COVID.

Me: Doctor please tell us something about your chain of hospitals and the facilities available there.

Dr Vishal: I am the CEO of Synergy Group of hospitals in which we have Chiranjeevi, Janvi, Synergy Medicare, Kashtabhanjan, and Synergy multispeciality/super speciality hospitals.

All of them have specialities for gynaecology, nephrology, neurology, pediatric, general surgery, neurosurgery, neurosurgery, with ICU facilities, ventilators and all kinds of medical amenities.

Me: Doctor, how was your close encounter with ‘death’? Please share your experiences.

Dr Vishal: Sure. (Sips coffee) It was in 2020 that we all were badly affected by Corona and there was a mad rush at hospitals for ventilators and oxygen.

That was the time I contracted the COVID infection. I can show you my reports, how badly I was affected. (Calls the nurse to ask for the file)

I tested positive for COVID on June 14. As the condition worsened, I was admitted to Savita hospital where my colleagues Dr Haresh Vastrapara and Dr Deepak Viradiya took care of me.

I was having breathing issues so was kept on a Bi-Pap machine (which smoothens the inhalation and exhalation process).

Later my condition worsened so I had to be kept on the ventilator. You know what, now people know about the words like ‘quarantine, ventilators, ECMO, Remdesivir, CytoSorb, Tocilizumab’ etc which they had never heard before. (laughs)

But my condition kept deteriorating even when I was on the ventilator. As a last recourse, my colleagues shifted me on ECMO treatment and that saved my life.

Me: Interesting! Gives me goosebumps. Doctor, please tell us something about ECMO and why it was used in your case?

Dr Vishal: Being a doctor is a boon because I can help people to save lives. But in my case, it was different because I knew all about the complications which I was facing and I knew that I was sinking day by day.

That was the time I decided to fight back. I used all my medical knowledge and here I am today – again back to work.

To brief you, I was admitted to Savita hospital and was doing well. But COVID is a miraculous disease. Precisely at the time when I was going to get discharged from the hospital, I suffered from a major brain stroke.

I had internal bleeding in the intestine which was quite dangerous. You’ll be surprised to know that I was given 32 units of blood in just 12 hours.

Being a doctor, I was aware of my situation. When my heartbeats rose to 240 per minute(generally it should be 100 per minute) I guided the hospital staff to keep me on a defibrillator.

Me: Sorry to interrupt, but a doctor can you please tell us what is a ‘defibrillator’?

Dr Vishal: Defibrillator is a machine that is used to restore a normal heartbeat by sending electric shocks to the heart.

Now I am going to add one more word to your dictionary ‘ECMO’ (laughs)

Me: Sure Sir, tell us about it. I am excited to know about it.

Dr Vishal: As said earlier, I was already hospitalized for COVID and had to be put on a ventilator. But nearly at the time of getting discharged from the hospital, my heartbeats rose to 240 beats per minute, my lungs became dysfunctional, blood vessels in the brain ruptured, I had a brain stroke, sugar levels rose, and I was dehydrated.

So my colleagues at the hospital tried the last recourse for me which was ECMO.

ECMO stands for Extra Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation. ECMO is used when:

  • A person is already on the ventilator, but the lungs fail to provide enough oxygen to the body.
  • If lungs become dysfunctional
  • If the heart is unable to pump blood in the required quantity
  • If a person is waiting for an organ transplant of the heart or lungs.

Me: Wow! That’s great. So ECMO can save a person and cure him right?

Dr Vishal: You are partly right. ECMO does not cure, it just gives you the ‘bonus time’ to get cured. I’ll explain.

See, what happens is that our lungs breathe and the heart needs to pump the oxygenated blood to the whole body. When a person is affected by Covid, his lungs are affected or damaged. This in turn stops the body from getting the required oxygen. As a result of which there is too much pressure on the heart to pump the oxygenated blood that is available in the body.

What ECMO does is that the whole process of oxygenating the blood, removing carbon dioxide from it and then pumping it to various other organs of the body is done by the machine.

ECMO gives rest to the vital organs like the heart and the lungs to rest so that they can recover. ECMO by itself cannot cure the patient. It is as if we’re borrowing time from God to get our organs repaired.

Meanwhile, other medications are going on to keep the heart and lungs working and to get them healed quickly.

At Janvi Multispeciality Hospital we do have an ECMO machine. We did not have it earlier but after I survived this dreadful attack, I realized how useful ECMO can be in saving people’s lives so we got it for our hospital.

Very few hospitals in Vadodara have an ECMO machine. This is because of the fact that the machine requires technical know-how to operate the machine and the technician who operates it is known as a ‘perfusionist.’

It requires the help of skilled and ECMO trained nurses, neurologists, nephrologists, cardiologists and cardiac surgeons when a person is put on ECMO. We have covered it in detail on our hospital’s website.

Apart from the technicalities involved, ECMO machines are too costly. It costs above 50 Lakh Rupees. So only big hospitals can afford to buy them. We have ECMO machines at Janvi Multispeciality Hospital.

Me: So for how many days you were on ECMO and what happened later?

Dr Vishal: I was on ECMO for 12 days. After 12 days my condition stabilized and then I was on a simple ventilator. After a few days, the ventilator was removed and I could breathe on my own.

I was in the hospital for 48 days, as a patient- not a doctor. This happened for the first time in my life.

Me: So what do you wish to share with our readers at last?

Dr Vishal: As a doctor, I know ‘Life is precious’ but when I saw death closely, I could see how everyone else connected with an individual suffers because of the demise of one person.
When a person dies, he does not die alone. A father, a brother, a son, an employee, a friend – all die together because a person has different roles in his life, and we need to save him at any cost.

When I was in the ICU as a patient, I understood what the patient’s in the ICU need. I was fully conscious when all the treatment was being given to me and hence I developed similar systems in all of my five hospitals, especially the lifesaver ECMO machine.

Don’t give up till the last breath and fight for life. That’s what I want to tell all people who are reading it.

Me: Thanks doctor Vishal for your valuable inputs and we hope to see you serving people in the coming days and may people benefit from the extensive knowledge that you have.

Dr Vishal: Most Welcome.