Ajay and Jia V3.jpg
Our stories

Ajay's Story - in critical situations, every minute counts

Wednesday 22 May 2024

In January 2023, Ajay - a father in his 40s, who lived a fit and healthy lifestyle in Melbourne’s western suburbs, began experiencing abdominal and back pain. When Ajay started to experience a shortness of breath, he visited Mercy Hospital’s Emergency Department in Werribee. Ajay remembers, “I knew in my mind something was not right.”

Ajay was found to have pneumonia and a bacterial infection in his bloodstream. He was quickly admitted to the Intensive Care Unit (ICU) before being transferred to Sunshine Hospital’s ICU.

Despite antibiotics and excellent supportive care, Ajay’s condition deteriorated in a frighteningly short amount of time. His lungs were damaged by the infection, and he had to be sedated and put on a ventilator, but he was not recovering. After consulting multiple surgeons and physicians, Dr Yang Yang, the doctor who was looking after Ajay, explained to his family that their specialised treatment team had reached the maximum amount of support they could give Ajay at Sunshine Hospital. If his condition deteriorated any further, the next level of care was ECMO.

Ajay on ventilator.JPG

An Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation or ECMO machine provides temporary support to patients with life-threatening heart and lung conditions, allowing their bodies to rest and begin recovery, while the machine warms, oxygenates and circulates their blood. At Western Health, we do not currently have ECMO machines available for our patients onsite.

For a patient like Ajay, this means he had to be transferred to another hospital with ECMO, and so, the doctors made the difficult decision to do just that.

A crisis call was sent out to the Victorian ECMO services for all hospitals in Melbourne with ECMO capabilities. Ajay was then transferred to Barwon Health (Geelong) where - soon after arrival - he was put on ECMO. In total, Ajay spent 39 days on an ECMO machine.

Ajay’s wife Kanchan remembers, “We were very fortunate that we could go there every day to visit and sit with him. But if they had ECMO at Sunshine Hospital, we wouldn’t have had to travel 50 km every day”. The added stress of travel to a hospital much further away, while already experiencing such intense worry, took a definite toll on the family. But even though the journey was long, every Saturday, Kanchan would bring along their daughter Jia to visit her dad. Jia made drawings for her father which were put up around Ajay’s room. Jia would say “Mama, don’t worry, Papa is having a treatment, he’ll be back in 100 days.”

Ajay came off the machine near the middle of March and remained in hospital for another four weeks to allow for recovery and rehabilitation. Returning home with Ajay for the first time, Kanchan says

“It was like I was alive again. We were all alive - our whole family was alive again!”

Ajay survived thanks to the experienced doctors and specialists at Western Health, and thanks to Barwon Health for responding to the crisis call for ECMO services. Ajay is correct when he says “ECMO is a life-saving machine.”

Ajay’s is a success story, but it could have had a very different outcome.

Ajay Kanchan and Mother.JPG

Western Health specialists, doctors and nurses work around the clock to provide the highest level of care to all who come through our hospital doors. Saving lives is at the very core of everything critical care specialists do. For the greatest chance of success, they need to ensure Western Health hospitals have the state-of-the-art equipment on-site that can help our patients at their most vulnerable.

Access to ECMO machines can mean the difference between life and death. In these situations, ECMO can sustain life, and every minute counts.

You can help us purchase two ECMO machines for Western Health by donating here.