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Postscript

Tiny Lung Patient Getting Special Treatment--but This Time From Mom

December 07, 1987|AMY MEDNICK | Times Staff Writer

Like any mother, Hue Pacheco of Anaheim dotes on her son, Miguel, and boasts that he is starting to play with toys earlier than "the average baby."

Pacheco has reason to dote. Four months ago, her week-old son was near death. His lungs were failing, his blood pressure was falling and he had no recognizable heartbeat for two minutes. Miguel was rushed to Childrens Hospital of Orange County in Orange, where he became the first patient to use a new heart-lung bypass machine.

Two UC Irvine doctors developed the machine for infants experiencing respiratory failure. The machine, called an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation system, reroutes a portion of the blood from the heart through an artificial lung outside the body. The lung oxygenates the blood, warms it and pumps it back into the body, said Barbara Towne, director of the 14-member team.

During the 1970s, UC Irvine doctors Robert Bartlett and Alan Gazzaniga, now at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor, successfully developed the oxygenation system for newborns and children and used it experimentally. Now 30 hospitals in the nation, including six in Southern California, have oxygenation machines and teams, Towne said.

Miguel was the first of five babies to undergo the oxygenation treatment at Childrens Hospital. The process is used only in the most extreme cases, when patients have less than a 20% chance of surviving severe lung disease. Three of the five babies have survived, Towne said.

Miguel, who was born one week premature July 13, "was desperately ill and near death" when he was put on the oxygenation machine, Towne said. He suffered from persistent pulmonary hypertension, a potentially fatal condition in which the blood vessels of his tiny lungs were unable to oxygenate his blood.

Pacheco recalled that doctors had told her that Miguel "was all blue--I didn't want to see him because I was scared."

But within a month after the emergency oxygenation treatment, the boy was able to go home to his family.

As Pacheco sat cuddling her baby recently, cooing at him softly as his whimpering subsided, she said Miguel's medical progress since the oxygenation treatment is "up and down."

He still remains connected to an oxygen tank by a tube that follows him from playpen to swing. Pacheco uses a portable tank when she takes Miguel outside.

"Sometimes he breathes really hard, like you've been running for a long time and you can't catch your breath," Pacheco said.

But Towne said Miguel, whose lungs are healing, can do without oxygen for short periods and probably won't need the oxygen much longer.

"It's extremely unlikely that he'll have any respiratory problems in the future," Towne said.

Pacheco has given up her job at Travel Express in Santa Ana to stay home with her son. The medical bills have totaled more than $200,000, she estimates, but because her employer allowed her to keep her medical insurance for Miguel, the insurance company has paid every cost.

Pacheco said that Miguel, now a healthy 13 pounds, has grown rapidly since August. "He was 7 weeks old when we brought him home, and he was so tiny--only 7 pounds, 3 ounces," she said. "He was so fragile. Now he's strong."

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