The miraculous ECMO procedure that saved Brett Purcell’s life at St Vincent’s ICU

In pictures: St Vincent’s ICU

When Brett Purcell was transferred to St Vincent’s Intensive Care Unit in 2011, his body was close to total shutdown.

Returning four years later, Brett believes he is here today thanks to the heart-lung bypass machine (ECMO) that saved his life.

‘I went to bed one night thinking I had a bad flu virus. I went downhill fast, and spent 12 days in a suburban hospital without a diagnosis, until a scan showed I was suffering from a massive heart infection,’ Brett says.

Once at St Vincent’s, Brett spent seven hours in surgery. However, further multiple complications sent his body into severe acute failure.

‘The hospital called my family as they feared I only had one hour to live. The medical team decided to perform an emergency heart-lung bypass called an ECMO procedure. I was too ill to move to theatre so the ECMO was performed at my bedside in ICU.’

ECMO copy
Brett Purcell with intensive Care Specialist Dr Barry Dixon, Department of critical Care Nurse Unit Manager Catherine Carbery and the ECMO machine that saved his life.

‘I regained consciousness ten days after the surgery, with no memory of the events which saved my life. I think it is fair to say that I was one of the sickest people in Melbourne the night of my surgery and I count myself so incredibly lucky to be alive now.’

‘Within a few months I was able to return to part-time work and five months later had made a complete recovery and was back at work full-time.’

Brett was so appreciative of the life-saving treatment he received at St Vincent’s ICU, he made a contribution towards the purchase of a new ECMO machine.

Intensive Care Specialist Dr Barry Dixon says the team is extremely grateful to have a new ECMO machine, which has already helped save many lives.

‘An ECMO machine plays a life-saving role, oxygenating patients’ vital organs, buying us time and giving patients’ organs a chance to recover. There is growing evidence to show that providing early ECMO treatment significantly increases survival rates,’ Dr Dixon says.

To contribute to more life-saving medical equipment, contact St Vincent’s Foundation online at or on (03) 9231 3365.

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