Meet Riley: An ECMO Hero

Photo of RileyAt 10 years old, Riley was a happy and healthy girl who enjoyed being part of the drama club at school. When she began to feel tired often and sleep more than usual, her mom, Sarah, took notice. And when Riley’s symptoms worsened with a cough and chest pains, she was quickly taken to Valley Children’s Emergency Department (ED).

When Riley arrived, she had low blood pressure and poor skin color. Her care team also observed Riley had an irregular heartbeat and was in cardiovascular collapse where she would go in and out of consciousness as a result of not having proper blood flow. Riley was immediately placed on oxygen, fluids and life-sustaining medication in order to control her heart rhythm. Further testing confirmed that Riley had infectious myocarditis, which is inflammation of the heart muscle because of an infection. This was making it impossible for Riley’s heart to pump as it should.

This timely diagnosis led to a prompt admission to the pediatric intensive care unit (PICU), where Riley was placed on ECMO (known as extracorporeal membrane oxygen). This is one of the most advanced forms of life support available to patients where the ECMO machine assumes the roles of the heart and lungs to provide oxygen to the body.

“The care team was so quick, responsive and communicated with me through every step of Riley’s care from the moment we arrived to the emergency room,” said Sarah. “They explained to me that Riley would be placed on ECMO and time stood still while she was in surgery. And just when I would feel a sense of hopelessness, someone would come by with an update or to chat, and their kind words would re-instill my belief that Riley would be okay.”

Riley remained on ECMO for seven days and was discharged after 21 days in the hospital. For Riley, a timely diagnosis and the highest level of expert care was lifesaving.

“I truly felt that Riley’s entire care team was just as invested in her survival as I was,” added Sarah. “Riley has developed such a special bond with her doctors who make each follow-up appointment personal and enjoyable for Riley – and for their expertise, compassion and support, I am forever grateful.”

Today, Riley is 14 years old and is now enjoying drama club in high school. She has become very passionate about her volunteer work with the local blood bank where she has proudly shared her story with others.

About ECMO at Valley Children's

Valley Children’s Extracorporeal Life Support (ECLS) team is one of only 16 centers in the world to receive international recognition from the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization (ELSO) as an ELSO Designated Platinum Center of Excellence. This is the result of demonstrating exceptional commitment to evidence-based processes and quality measures, staff training and continuing education, patient satisfaction and ongoing clinical care. Valley Children’s ECLS program is the only one of its kind in the Central Valley for infants and children and they have patient outcomes that have been in the top 10% to 15% in the world compared to other ELSO centers.