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Heart Hospital nurses’ teamwork helps Tucson COVID patient

May 13, 2020

abrazo-nurses-500-x-400When a coronavirus patient in Tucson needed specialized care, a team of nurses from Abrazo Arizona Heart Hospital jumped into action to help their colleagues at Carondelet St. Mary’s Hospital.

It was early on in the coronavirus pandemic, with many questions unanswered about the virus and its transmission. The spirit of teamwork prevailed as arrangements were made for the Abrazo nurses to

assist with patient care and staff education using the ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) system.

The patient, retired paramedic and St. Mary’s associate Larry Delfs, had been in rapidly declining health and was placed on ECMO to help with oxygenation and cardiovascular support.

“It was not an easy decision for all of us, since we were leaving our families and knowingly going to a COVID patient to run ECMO. But we all took the risk as we felt it was our duty to help our sister facilities, and also considered that the patient is a fellow staff member,” said Maricris Tallant, BSN, RN, CCRN,

director of CVICU, Step Down Unit and Respiratory Therapy at Abrazo Arizona Heart Hospital.

Accompanying Tallant were Maria Gracia RN, BSN, CVICU Clinical Coordinator, and Jella Laquindanum, RN, BSN, CVICU ECMO Coordinator.

“Mr. Delfs is an extraordinary case,” said Dr. Kapil Lotun, director of Carondelet’s Cardiac Cath Lab, Structural Heart Disease and Cardiovascular Service Line, who was part of Delfs’ care team. “If we had not used the ECMO device when we did, he may not be alive today.”

“We got to Tucson on April 2 with a great welcome from their team. We proceeded to assess the patient and developed an education plan and gave bedside nursing support for the next three days,” said Tallant.

“On April 9, I got another call from my chief nursing officer asking to send our ECMO machine to Tucson and help them transition the same patient to our machine. Jella, Maria and I got to St. Mary’s that afternoon. When we got there, we talked to the perfusionist, the cardiologist and staff so we all knew how to transition the patient to the cardiohelp ECMO and circuit. We then helped and guided them when the patient was switched from the tandemheart to the cardiohelp ECMO machine,” she added.

Delfs’ condition stabilized after three weeks on the ECMO device. Today, Delfs is awake and doing well, able to communicate with his wife and children. He recently was released from the hospital and transferred to a long-term care facility to continue his recovery.

“This success story was a great team effort,” Dr. Lotun said. “All the nurses, respiratory techs, and intensivists were the real heroes, at the bedside 24/7. The perfusionists and the nurses from Abrazo Arizona Heart Hospital who helped with the education were also incredibly helpful. Our administration was supportive throughout this whole endeavor, providing all the necessary equipment and PPE.”

Delfs was released from the hospital to the cheers of his wife, family and former co-workers at Tucson Fire and Police Department, along with hospital staff.

“It was a humbling feeling to be able to help our colleagues in a time that is both hard and risky. Carondelet St. Mary’s CVICU staff were very enthusiastic and very receptive to the learning we had to share,” said Tallant. “We are happy to see them be able to run the machine and having all the necessary tools that they needed. We went home to Phoenix feeling triumphant.”

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