Wednesday, October 5, 2022

BIG IDEA: Dr. James Tita and Dr. Daniel DiBardino

Chief Medical Officer and Chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery, Mercy Health
Why You Should Know Them: Helped spearhead the development of a medical program at Mercy which focuses on oxygenation of blood outside the body, proving vital to saving the lives of COVID patients in Toledo.

Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation— ECMO for short— is a medical technology which involves supplementing the lungs’ oxygenation of the blood, potentially giving both the heart and lungs the chance to recover from an illness.

“It’s not actually a treatment for any disease, but what it does for organs that are failing— specifically the heart and/or the lungs— it gives them a respite, so to speak, to allow healing to occur naturally,” said Dr. James Tita, Chief Medical Officer and Pulmonary Critical Care Physician at Mercy Health St. Vincent Medical Center.

ECMO has been utilized at hospitals in the region in the past, but always as a temporary measure, with an eye on transferring patients to other facilities such as the University of Michigan or the Cleveland Clinic. That changed a few months ago.

Mercy Health St. Vincent introduced the area’s first full ECMO program in the summer of 2021. In August, a patient with a severe case of COVID was treated via ECMO at St. Vincent’s. After a week of ECMO therapy, the patient had recovered sufficiently to be warned from use of the machine and, a week later, was discharged from the hospital.

“What’s different about this is, they’re actually taking a miniature version of that technology and bringing it into the intensive care unit. And rather than supporting a patient for a period of minutes or hours in the operating room, it may be for days, weeks, sometimes even months,” Dr. Tita said.

Tita, a Chicago native who has worked at St. Vincent’s for 35 years, helped to develop the program for the Medical Center, along with Medical Director and Chief of Cardiothoracic Surgery, Dr. Daniel DiBardino. St. Vincent’s administration had been considering building a full ECMO program for years, before it began in 2021.

“It’s certainly something that we’ve thought of for a good long time, and I would say when the pandemic hit, and the need for ECMO just skyrocketed across the country, I think that was the impetus to move us in the direction of launching this program.”

Though ECMO is currently in amplified demand due to the pandemic— over 90% of ECMO beds in the country are occupied by COVID patients— Dr. Tita sees the program being utilized at St. Vincent’s for years to come, “I anticipate the utilization of ECMO will continue long past the pandemic,” he predicts.

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