UF Health’s new ECPR program saves first heart attack patient
UF Health’s new ECPR program saves first heart attack patient

Frank Lowman is as hardworking as they come.

Even after suffering a heart attack that led to cardiac arrest, Lowman focused on one thing that was extremely important to him after returning home from the hospital – he wanted to get back to work.

“I feel good. I don’t have any problems with anything,” said Lowman, an excavator operator from Williston, Fla., who turned 63 on Christmas Day. “I feel like I’m ready.”

Lowman has another personal distinction. He is the first UF Health patient to meet the criteria for extracorporeal cardiopulmonary resuscitation, or ECPR, for an out-of-hospital cardiac arrest. ECPR is a type of CPR that uses an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machine, known as ECMO, to deliver oxygen-rich blood throughout the body. As a result, Lowman not only survived his cardiac arrest, but also had no lasting neurological or physical disabilities.

“This is a very successful outcome for a patient who would otherwise have a 100 percent chance of death,” said Torben Becker, MD, Ph.D., associate professor in the Department of Emergency Medicine at the UF College of Medicine and executive director of emergency medicine for UF Health Critical Care Organization.

In March 2023, the Prehospital ECPR program went online at UF Health, making UF Health Shands Hospital the only facility in North Central Florida to offer the advanced CPR technique.

“This program gives patients who would traditionally die a chance to survive,” Becker said. “Every link in the chain of survival was critical to achieving this patient outcome.”

In late November 2023, Lowman suffered a heart attack that caused his heart to stop. Having been certified in CPR for more than a decade, Lowman’s 26-year-old daughter, Kayla Watson, began CPR as Williston Fire Rescue responded to the 911 call. Between Watson, Fire Rescue and Levy County EMS, rescuers performed CPR on Lowman for more than 45 minutes before he arrived unconscious at the UF Health emergency room. The emergency department doctors and nurses recognized the dire situation and quickly mobilized the ECPR team.

While assessing the patient, Becker and the emergency room team noticed signs of life—specifically, that their patient was moving his arm during CPR and his pupils were responding to light. Consequently, Dr. Mark Meibauer, a professor in the Department of Anesthesiology at the UF College of Medicine, and Becker proceeded to place Lowman on ECPR therapy.

“I was presumed dead when I came in,” Lowman said. “The machine did a lot of good. That saved me.”

Whenever a patient is connected to ECMO, the machine takes over to help the heart and lungs function. Two days later, Lowman underwent two-vessel coronary artery bypass surgery while on ECMO. Dr. Eric Zheng performed the patient’s heart surgery. After more than 100 hours on the ECMO machine, Lowman’s condition was reevaluated and the machine was turned off.

“ECPR is still limited to centers of excellence around the country,” Becker said. “This case is a great example of how a true system of care is needed to provide life-saving intervention.”

As Lowman’s condition improved in UF Health’s cardiac surgery intensive care unit, many nurses visited him. They were thrilled to see how well he had recovered.

“A sister came and hugged me. She said, “I’ve never hugged a dead person before,” recalled Lowman, who stood up several times before starting ECPR. “I guess those nurses have never met Lowman because we’re fighters.”

Lowman returned to work on February 20. He is able to do all of his work tasks just as he did before his cardiac arrest.

“We are really grateful to UF Health,” Watson said. “Everyone did their best.”

Do you know CPR and want to help save lives? Download the PulsePoint app at https://www.pulsepoint.org/ and receive notifications of medical emergencies happening near you.

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