Julia rides again

Motorcycle enthusiast Julia Shelton never heard of ECMO. If the George Washington Hospital didn’t have it, she may have never heard the sound of a bike again.

Did you know?

Since acquiring the George Washington University Hospital in 1997, UHS has been instrumental in ensuring the facility continues to grow and meet the needs of the Washington, DC area residents. A 400,000-square-foot replacement facility opened in 2002 and UHS continues to build on programs and services. UHS has added specialized programs to the hospital, including the GW Transplant Institute, the Comprehensive Breast Center and the Cardiovascular Center.

The Rolling Thunder Run is an annual event held since 1988 that has grown to become one of the world’s largest single date motorcycle event and Julia Shelton was looking forward to riding alongside her husband. Diagnosed with lupus, Julia often exercises to relieve the symptoms caused when her own immune system attacks her healthy cells and tissues. Normally this routine helps her to feel better but this time, it was different. She started feeling a heaviness in her chest and would become breathless from just talking. At first, she thought it was a cold.

When the symptoms got worse and she struggled to breathe, she went to the ER and was put on oxygen. Deeply concerned, her husband contacted Julia’s Rheumatologist Rodolfo Curiel, MD, who ordered her transfer to GW Hospital. Once there, she was given oxygen and closely monitored. Over the next few days, she became more unstable and her condition worsened.

Julia Shelton“Suddenly, I couldn’t breathe,” Julia remembers. It was the last thing she remembered.

Julia was placed in a medically induced coma in the ICU for two days.

“Julia had pneumonia and her lungs were failing. ECMO [Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation] was her only chance for survival,” says Cardiac Surgeon Elizabeth Pocock, MD.

ECMO is a specialized treatment that uses a bedside partial cardiopulmonary bypass machine that acts as the heart and lungs. It helps pumps blood and oxygen through the body while a person recovers from various conditions.

Julia was placed on the ECMO machine for 20 days.

“This technology allowed her lungs to rest and recover,”  says Dr. Pocock.

Thanks to them, I can now join my husband on our motorcycle adventures.

Julia Shelton

“We have a mobile cannulation/transport team that partners with community hospitals,” says ECMO Coordinator Melody Ricks, RN, CCRN. “We stabilize the patient and transport them back to GW Hospital, all while connected to the ECMO unit. This mobile capability is helping to save people who otherwise wouldn’t have a chance.”

Julia got that chance. And took it to recover and get back to her life.

“If it wasn’t for Dr. Pocock, Melody, and the rest of the fantastic nurses and doctors here at GW Hospital, I would not be alive today,” says Julia.