Watching a healthy, vivacious Katie Looney speaking in front of them on Tuesday, May 10, it may have been hard for attendees at the quarterly meeting of the Baylor Scott And White Dallas Foundation Board to imagine the elementary schoolteacher in the state she was back on Monday, January 13, 2021 — the victim of a harrowing car crash in Mejia, Texas, that had her vehicle submerged underwater, upside down, in a freezing creek for 20 minutes, her lungs giving out.
Katie eventually was transported by helicopter to Baylor University Medical Center (BUMC) in Dallas, where for 50 days she would be hooked up to an ECMO — short for “Extra-Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation” — machine that basically wound up saving her life. It was all under the supervision of Dr. Gary Schwartz, Baylor Scott & White Health’s chief of thoracic surgery and director of the ECMO program, who told the foundation gathering how his team cared for Katie and helped bring about her successful recovery.
But, more on all that later.
The first in-person meeting of the advisory board since February 2020, the May 10 luncheon had been called to order a little earlier by board Chairman Norm Bagwell, who recognized members, including Peggy Meyer, Shelle Sills, Richard Dix, Marybeth Conlon, Leslie Diers, Elizabeth Gambrell, Joe Hardt, Kent Fannon, Jeff York, Jeanne Whitman Bobbitt, Jaimee Eddington, David Michel, John Harkey, Trisha Wilson and Ken Hersh, who’d joined the board during the pandemic. Norm also gave a shout-out to departing long-time board members Roy Bailey, Peggy Sewell and Patrick Walsh, and noted that the current “board-giving campaign” was at 63% participation, with 50 days to go until the end of the fiscal year.
After reminding everyone about the foundation’s upcoming events — the Celebrating Women luncheon on Friday, October 21, and the Grand Rounds golf tourney on Monday, October 24 — Norm introduced Christina Goodman, the foundation’s new vice president of development. Christina offered a thoughtful prayer before giving way to foundation President Ben Renberg. Ben proceeded to rave about the foundation’s “great success” during the current fiscal year, with about $22 million having been raised so far. He also lauded the hospital system’s Nurse Residency Program, which is helping address a nurse shortage the pandemic worsened, and pointed out that BUMC’s Uterine Transplant Program has become the largest such program in the world.
Ben then noted that the foundation would be relocating its offices to the Administration Building, and that Kyle Armstrong had been named BUMC’s interim president following former President Steve Newton‘s transition to chief growth officer. Kyle told how the hospital would perform more than 380 organ transplants this year before introducing the meeting’s featured speakers: Gary Schwartz and Katy Lingle, nurse manager of the ECMO program, who showed the audience an actual ECMO machine.
That machine — basically a pump that takes blood out of the body, puts oxygen directly into the bloodstream, then sends the blood back into the body, replacing heart/lung functions for patients whose heart and/or lungs are failing — essentially “buys time for the physician to treat the underlying problems,” Katy explained.
For Katie Looney, whose lungs were failing and whose heart was only slowly recovering after her car accident, being put on ECMO was an obvious choice. While early on she was also a possible candidate for a lung transplant, Schwartz recalled, he was hopeful that “we could recover her lungs” after a period of rehabilitation in Dallas.
After those 50 days on the machine, plus another 15 days in the hospital recovering, that’s exactly what happened. Not that there weren’t trying times — times when Katie was angry or in pain, when she found it impossible to brush her teeth or put her hair up in a ponytail. But there were other times, too, when she experienced her nurses’ extraordinary dedication — when, she said, “I realized I was in good hands, and that I had people who loved and cared about me, a lot.”
Said Schwartz: “I’m an eternal optimist. I’m always going to assume things are going to be great. But they’re not always going to be great. What I tell patients and their families is, ‘When I say great, I mean from point A to point B, it’s going to get better. But there’s going to be lots of ups and downs. You can’t fixate on the little things.’ ”
Katie Looney — one of about 155 ECMO patients at Baylor Scott And White each year — is living proof of that.
* Photo credit: Laura Bierner