Patients, medical staff gather to celebrate their second chance at life

HOLLYWOOD, FLA. (WSVN) - A remarkable reunion took place with some doctors and former patients — some of whom are lucky to be alive.

Lots of smiles, tears and hugs were exchanged at Memorial Regional Hospital, Tuesday.

Many of the men and women present shared the room with the doctors, nurses and care staff who saved their lives. Here, they were able to say, “Thank you.”

“A lot of it I don’t remember because I was in a coma for a few months,” said Jody MacLellan, who is lucky to be alive, “but it was definitely a fight, and I’m happy to be here.”

MacLellan had influenza. The virus ravaged her lungs.

“If you were able to see her CT scan, her lungs actually literally have holes in there from both influenza and subsequent infections,” said Dr I-Wen Wang.

Doctors decided her only hope was ECMO — the most aggressive form of life support.

“That’s where she basically replaces the function of the lungs by putting the oxygen in and taking the carbon dioxide out,” said Wang. “It also then allows to push the blood around the body, so if the heart doesn’t work, it can work for the heart as well.”

ECMO, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, is a miracle machine according to doctors. It can keep a person alive for weeks, even months, so that their bodies can heal even when their heart or lungs don’t work.

“Without ECMO, she wouldn’t have survived,” said Eric Poletti whose wife is now recovering.

MacLellan was on ECMO for four months and in the ICU for 10 months. She was released in November and continues to recover.

“I have two little kids to go home to, so I have a lot to live for,” she said.

Sam Houston is a University of Miami student who also survived over a month in a coma.

“Bronchitis that turned into pneumonia, that turned into me passing out at a Whole Foods and waking up in a hospital, and then waking up a month later, here,” he said.

Maria Akhlatkina is a former Cirque du Soleil gymnast who experienced sudden heart failure.

“I’m happy to be here,” she said. “I’m happy to be alive. Just very thankful for ECMO.”

Doctors said the machine coupled with top-notch care is the winning combination.

Like their tears, the patients could not hold back their gratitude.

“I’m going to be grateful to this team, great team, at Memorial Hospital for the rest of my life,” said Akhlatkina. “They saved my life.”

Many of the patients said they were given a second chance at life.

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