Andrew Karge visiting members of the Virtua Berlin emergency room - Patient Testimonial

Andrew Karge Returns to Virtua Berlin to Thank His Lifesaving Team

When Andrew Karge went to Virtua Berlin with flu-like symptoms, he never thought he’d need lifesaving care. But shortly after entering the satellite emergency department, the 20-year-old developed a severe lung condition—and the staff helped save his life. A month later, Andrew returned to thank them.

“I thought I was going to die, but the Virtua staff was phenomenal,” the Clementon resident recalls. “They kept me calm, and they kept me alive. They treated me like I was their own kid.”

A minor illness turns into a life-threatening emergency

When Andrew arrived at Virtua Berlin, he looked healthy. But his symptoms abruptly escalated into a severe lung condition called acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) that prevents the lungs from functioning normally.

The staff quickly placed a breathing tube in Andrew’s airway to force air into his lungs. But, he still wasn’t getting enough oxygen, and this put him at risk for organ failure. They contacted Virtua’s partners at Penn Medicine in Philadelphia, and they helicoptered to Virtua Berlin to provide the advanced lifesaving treatment Andrew needed.

The Penn Medicine team brought a life-support machine called ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) to function as Andrew’s lungs. The ECMO machine pumped blood from Andrew’s body into an artificial lung that added oxygen to the blood and removed carbon dioxide. The machine then pumped the oxygenated blood back into Andrew's body.

During these lifesaving measures, Andrew’s primary nurse, Paula Heine, took time to comfort his grandmother—who arrived during the crisis—and to speak by phone with his mother, who was 1,000 miles away.

Once Andrew was stable, the Penn team flew him to the Hospital of the University of Pennsylvania, where he was admitted for further care.

How serious is ARDS? 

The American Lung Association estimates that 30 to 50 percent of people diagnosed with ARDS die from it. However, the risk of death isn’t the same for all people who have this condition as it's linked to the person’s overall health and other factors. A young person like Andrew has a better outlook than an older person or someone who has other risk factors like chronic lung disease or a history of smoking or heavy alcohol use. Many survivors of ARDS fully recover within a few months, but some suffer permanent lung damage and other complications.

Within a month, Andrew was feeling much better. And, he was so appreciative, he returned to the Berlin ER to thank everyone who helped save his life.

“It was wonderful to see Andrew again and to see how well he’s doing,” said Lisa DeMary, nurse director of the Virtua Berlin emergency department. “Helping our patients is always rewarding, but it was truly special to be able to spend time with a former patient after he overcame such a serious illness.”

Updated December 5, 2018

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