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Legacy Emanuel Medical Center gets dedicated, oversized ambulance to respond to flu season

The ambulance is equipped with life-saving equipment meant to buy time for people who are at risk of dying from the flu.

PORTLAND, Ore. — Flu season is gearing up and doctors say people need to get a flu shot.

For some people, the virus can be deadly but Legacy Emanuel Medical Center has a new tool to help save lives. The hospital now has a dedicated, oversized ambulance.

Inside there’s life-saving equipment. One little machine is meant to buy time for people who are at risk of dying from the flu.

The team on board is called the "Mobile ECMO Team." ECMO stands for Extra Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation.

It's a mouthful, but basically, it means blood is taken out of the body, oxygenated, then put back in the body so that people's hearts and lungs can get a break from the work.

Legacy Emanuel is one of two hospitals in Oregon that has the ability to use the life-saving technique. But it's the only one with a mobile team, that’s now also equipped with a new dedicated ambulance to pick up and transport patients. Often, the patients are on the verge of dying.

Carlos Pagan said he might not be alive today if the ECMO team didn't step in last December when he had the flu.

“This procedure here that they do, it saves your life. It gives you a chance to go back home and be with your family,” Pagan said.

His wife, Martha, said the ECMO team didn't’ even wait to transport her husband. They hooked him up to the machine right there in his room because he was in such bad condition.

Dr. Joe Deng, the ECMO Medical Director for Legacy Health, said they’ve been able to do the ECMO procedure for about 30 years, but what’s new is the team can get to patients who need help, in a quick manner.

“It's become incredibly busy because the flu season has become worse and worse every year,” Deng said.

While Deng and his team want to spread the word to average people living in the Portland Metro Area that ECMO is available, he said it’s equally as important to make sure health professionals know it’s another option for their patients as well. The mobile ECMO team is available 24-7 and is staffed with critical care doctors, nurses and other medical staff.

But when it comes down to it, doctors don't want to have to perform life-saving procedures if they don't have to.

They’re encouraging everyone to get the flu shot this season, because even if it doesn't prevent the flu outright, symptoms may not be as bad.