A fighter by the name of “Victor”

In dire circumstances, an extraordinary option for Victor and his family.

Valerie Munguia-Bryan and Mario Bryan knew for months that one of their twin babies would be born with a devastating congenital defect. But they refused to give up hope.

The Saginaw, Michigan, couple was referred to C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital by their hometown physician because of U-M’s expertise in repairing difficult congenital defects and for heart-lung support technology known as extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO. Doctors expected the couple’s newborn would need to be placed on ECMO to be kept alive from birth and through surgery to repair the defect.

ECMO was developed in the 1970s by U-M surgeon Robert Bartlett, MD, now a professor emeritus. The technology — described by some of Bartlett’s colleagues as “extraordinary” — does the work of a patient’s failing heart and lungs for a period of weeks, sometimes months. That’s often long enough for the heart and lungs to rest and recover, increasing the patient’s chance of survival.  The technology has spread worldwide, with more than 40,000 cases treated and more than 24,000 lives saved.

Manny and Victor Bryan were born Nov. 1 at U-M’s Von Voigtlander Women’s Hospital. Manny was born healthy. As expected, Victor’s lungs were so underdeveloped that he was placed on ECMO immediately following birth. The following day, he was taken to surgery to repair the congenital diaphragmatic hernia that physicians had diagnosed before he was born.  The repair involved shaping a new diaphragm and moving his stomach, liver and intestines out of the upper cavity of the chest, where they were pushing up against the heart and lungs.

Infants born with a congenital diaphragmatic hernia often have respiratory problems, with the severity varying by case from mild to life-threatening. (Learn more about congenital diaphragmatic hernia) In Victor’s case, it was life-threatening, so much so that Victor had two runs with ECMO. He is now recovering from a second surgery to close his abdomen.

“He is a fighter,” says his mother Valerie, who chose Victor’s name after her eye was caught by a University of Michigan Health System poster invoking the school’s Hail to the Victors fight song. “He will be victorious.”

“Victor is a perfect example of a child who wouldn’t be here today were it not for ECMO,” said Victor’s surgeon, Ronald Hirschl, MD, Surgeon-in-Chief at Mott Children’s Hospital.

Victor has become a special baby for other reasons. He is the University of Michigan’s 2000th patient to be placed on ECMO.  The milestone is one that was watched closely by the team of doctors, researchers, nurses and administrators who run the ECMO program. While the numbers worldwide far exceed 2,000, U-M is where the treatment was anchored, grew, became refined and developed into what it is today. U-M is the place where thousands of doctors and nurses from around the nation continue to train to bring this technology to their own hospitals.

The ECMO team has been not-so-quietly cheering for Victor as he grows and overcomes hurdles. Nurses readily volunteer to hold his twin brother Manny every time Valerie visits Victor at Mott’s Neonatal Intensive Care Unit. They will cheerfully admit they’re in love with the infants. Recently, Valerie had the chance to meet Bartlett, who came by the NICU to get a glimpse of Victor. She can’t wait to meet him again to fix one thing she regrets not doing earlier.

“The next time I see Dr. Bartlett, I want to give him a big hug,” she says, “for saving my baby.”

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