Unusual Baby Stories

Winnipeg Doctors Come Up With Innovative Way To Save Newborn’s Life

It’s hard to believe that just four weeks ago Keith Porcher’s tiny lungs were failing from pneumonia and doctors held out little hope he could survive.

Friday, he was the picture of health as he sat in his parents’ arms, alternately cooing, crying and sleeping, during a news conference to explain the innovative treatment that saved their first child’s life.

Doctors at the Health Sciences Centre adapted a dialysis machine used to treat kidney patients to be an artificial lung that helped Keith recover from the pneumonia and get his lungs working properly.

“It feels awesome,” said Dr. Abhay Divekar, a pediatric cardiologist who came up with the experimental treatment.

“The best part is there was never a ‘No’ from anyone involved. We knew there was a risk but we also had a baby who wasn’t going to live.”

While Keith was in the womb, he inhaled mecumonium, a baby’s first bowel movement, triggering severe pneumonia. His heart stopped, prompting doctors to perform an emergency C-section Jan. 21.

Usually, infants in this kind of distress are put on a lung or heart bypass device, called an ECMO – extracorporeal membrane oxygenation.

Only four cities in Canada – Edmonton, Toronto, Vancouver and Montreal – have machines that can be used on babies under 10 kilograms, but Divekar said the transfer would have taken too long and been too risky for Keith.

So he quickly improvised and worked with a team of doctors and nurses to rejig a dialysis machine to serve as an artificial lung.

“I thought there’s no reason why we can’t connect the circuits together and try,” said Divekar.

“Once we knew we could do it technically, we approached the parents and said, ‘This is where we are at, we don’t have many options, it’s totally experimental but we think it will work.’ ”

The dialysis machine was used to reroute Keith’s blood through the artificial lung and then put it back into his body with more oxygen.

Within three or four hours of being on the machine, Keith showed dramatic signs of improvement. Within three days he was taken off the machine and on Monday he was allowed to go home.

Doctors say he has made a complete recovery and shouldn’t need further treatment.

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About the author

Lisa Arneill

Mom of 2 boys and founder of GrowingYourBaby.com and World Traveled Family. When I'm not running around after my boys, I'm looking for our next vacation spot!

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