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Norfolk farmer goes home after months in Hamilton ICU with COVID-19

Mike VanNetten — a 45-year-old poultry farmer from Norfolk County — bid farewell to Hamilton General staff after 83 days in the hospital with COVID-19. Hamilton Health Sciences

A chicken farmer from Norfolk County — one of the sickest COVID-19 patients at Hamilton General Hospital (HGH) in recent months — happily said goodbye to physicians and staff on Wednesday after several months in an intensive care unit (ICU).

“The care Mike has received is beyond anything I have ever experienced,” says Mike VanNetten’s wife, Sarah, in a release.

“The healthcare team takes care of their patients, but they address the care of their loved ones as well. They are angels in scrubs.”

Read more: When a ventilator isn’t enough: Why younger COVID-19 patients can need artificial lungs

VanNetten was admitted to HGH on April 13 after he was airlifted from Joseph Brant Hospital in Burlington following a two-day stint on a ventilator with severe cold-like symptoms.

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VanNetten was given one of the most extreme treatments seen amid the pandemic, an ECMO machine.

ECMO treatment — or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation — is a form of life support that uses a pump to circulate blood through a machine that replaces the work of someone’s lungs and, in some cases, their heart.

Also known as artificial lungs, ECMO technology takes some of a patient’s blood, adds oxygen and removes carbon dioxide, then pumps it back into the body.

Click to play video: 'Health Matters: Why younger patients with COVID-19 can need artificial lungs in the ICU' Health Matters: Why younger patients with COVID-19 can need artificial lungs in the ICU
Health Matters: Why younger patients with COVID-19 can need artificial lungs in the ICU – Apr 26, 2021

“ECMO is the most aggressive form of life support in an intensive care unit, and it requires a whole team of trained health care workers. They are required to constantly monitor and respond to these patients through the course of their time on the machine,” says Dr. Faizan Amin, medical director of the Hamilton Health Sciences ECMO program.

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In April, Amin told Global News the procedure requires large tubes in a patient’s blood vessels, blood-thinning drugs and antibiotics. The risk of bleeding, blood clots and infection can be high.

“People that are older and have other medical problems often can’t even tolerate the stress of going onto the machine,” said Amin.

“So we usually reserve (ECMO) for people that have been mostly healthy and younger before getting sick with COVID.”

Read more: No side effects after your COVID-19 vaccine? Don’t worry, it’s probably still working

In a late May during an HHS town hall, president and CEO Rob MacIsaac told staff patients the ECMO program was of particular concern amid the third wave of the pandemic.

“Typically, we might have one or two patients on that ECMO at any given time, when there isn’t a pandemic,” MacIsaac said.

“During the pandemic, we’ve had up to 10 patients receiving this level of care at the general.”

The depth of VanNetten’s stay was difficult at times as the 45-year-old was unable to communicate with his wife and family members.

“Mike and his family are wonderful, and we are very happy that he is able to go home,” said Dr. Craig Ainsworth, cardiologist and intensivist at the HGH. “Mike is a true success story with ECMO in COVID patients. The staff and physicians who cared for Mike and patients like him work very hard every day for moments like this.”

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VanNetten will now be a an in-patient at Hamilton General, expected for rehab multiple times a week.

– With files from Su-Ling Goh

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