In this blog, we hear from Susie and her wife Kate as they recall  their journey to Royal Brompton Hospital where Susie's life was saved. 

Susie’s story

In March 2019 I was admitted at the Royal Devon & Exeter’s A&E with pneumonia. From there I was transferred to Derriford hospital in Plymouth for a VATS procedure to clear my chest. Whilst in recovery from this surgery, I contracted a secondary infection. I remember that night on the ward, in pain, struggling to breathe. And I remember being back in ICU still struggling to breathe with the oxygen mask strapped to my face. 

I was ventilated soon after and, over the next few days my organs began shutting down. As a last resort, a phone call was made, and late one night, staff from London’s Royal Brompton Hospital blue-lighted to fetch me in Plymouth. They took me to surgery, attached me to the ECMO unit, and took me back to London. I was in London on ECMO for sixteen days, until gradually my organs started working for themselves again.

After learning to walk a few steps with the aid of a walking frame, I was pleased to be discharged. At home I engaged with intensive physio, and hired a wheelchair so I could enjoy the outside and feel fresh air on my face. I grew strong enough to no longer need the walking frame, able to walk short distances with just a stick. Those distances grew until I was able to walk around a nearby wooded lake. I still remember the feeling of freedom when I stepped out of the car on the edge of the woods, walking into the trees at a slow, determined pace, greeted by ducks at the edge of the lake.

I often wonder about the ECMO unit that saved my life. Before this I never knew it existed. And I think about the staff of the Royal Brompton Hospital who took care of me and gave me a second chance at life. I owe them my world, and I know that my partner of twelve years feels the same way. One day I look forward to meeting them. But how do you thank people for giving you everything? 


Kate’s Story

My wife Susie was suddenly taken ill at the end of March with pneumonia and she was promptly admitted to the Royal Devon & Exeter hospital for treatment. After Susie contracted the second infection, I was told that she was critically unwell, and they had no idea of whether she would be able to survive. My world came crashing down around me, my 45-year-old partner of 12 years who until 3 weeks earlier had been fit and healthy now had her life hanging in the balance. I’m a Theatre Sister and I see nearly every day the terrible blows that life can deal people, but just like everyone else I never thought this would happen to us.

The referral was made and the ECMO retrieval team from AICU left the Brompton at 7pm that evening and were in Plymouth by 10pm. I couldn’t have been more relieved to see them arrive, they were just so caring and compassionate from the moment I met them. I was fully consulted about what would happen and the process of ECMO treatment. I was told that Susie may still not survive but I had to believe that she was going to be ok and for the first time in a week I had hope. The team left Plymouth at 2am to take Susie to the Brompton, and I arrived there that afternoon. The AICU were just fantastic, they kept me informed and were so caring to both of us. After 11 days Susie was able to come off the ECMO, it had worked and saved her life. After a 16 day stay at the Royal Brompton Susie was transferred back to ITU at the Royal Devon and Exeter NHS Foundation Trust.

Exactly four weeks after being put into an induced coma, Susie had a tracheostomy inserted and was woken up. The relief of seeing her awake and be able to talk to her was just completely overwhelming. Susie had severe polyneuropathy which meant she couldn’t move any of her limbs. She had extensive physio and with a determined attitude she was home two and half weeks later. She is still having physio now and ongoing follow ups but is just doing fantastically well. None of this would have been possible without ECMO and the brilliant team on the AICU at the Royal Brompton. If it wasn’t for them Susie wouldn’t be here now, we owe them everything and we will be forever grateful.

Learn more and support our #MoreTimeMoreLives ECMO Appeal by clicking here