Partnership between Plano Fire-Rescue and Medical City Plano credited for saving man's life

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A golfer, runner, soccer player, and coach, Rick Armijo never thought he would also be a cardiac arrest patient at only 51 years old.

"I don't remember the event. I don't recall the seven or eight days I was on life support," Armijo said.

His wife and stepson found him on the floor at home late one night.

“I think we were called somewhere around 2:30 in the morning,” Dr. Crescens Pellecchia said. Pellecchia serves as the vice chief of critical care at Medical City Plano and is the medical director of the ECMO Mechanical Support.

ECMO or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, is an advanced artificial life-support system that can function as a person's lungs and heart.

Armijo’s stepson was the first to administer CPR after calling 911.

“Listen carefully,” the 911 operator said. “I want you to lay him flat on his back on the floor.”

The teen performed chest compression for four minutes until a Plano police officer arrived to help, followed by Plano Fire-Rescue paramedics.

"What's new is the ECMO program," Dr. Mark Gamber said. Gamber is the medical director at Plano Fire-Rescue and an emergency physician at Medical City Plano. "For certain patients that are in a resistant rhythm, a shockable rhythm, cardiac arrest, we have a potential to add something to their care that's never been seen before. And it buys time."

While still on the field, paramedics determined Armijo could benefit from the ECMO and activated the ECMO team.

"It's about eight to 10 people joining in an emergency situation like this," Pellecchia said.

According to Pellecchia, once at the hospital, the paramedics work side-by-side with the ECMO team all the way to the cath lab.

“What people may or may not realize is that minutes really matter,” Pellecchia said. “And so, the ability for this program to be activated from the field and not wait... we're able to get people the support they need very quickly."

The program was launched in December of last year after months of training between Plano Fire-Rescue and Medical City Plano.

“We love these guys,” Pellecchia said. “What makes medicine work is that everyone who is involved from start to finish is all on the same team, same page, all working together."

In less than 45 minutes, Armijo was connected to the ECMO.

“His heart wasn't pumping at all. So, this machine was an artificial heart for him,” Pellecchia said.

A critical team effort performed seamlessly that Armijo credits for why he is still alive.

“This experience has just been overwhelming, obviously,” Armijo said. “I'm not taking things for granted, you know, especially my family, my wife, you know, my kids.”

On Monday night, Armijo was able to personally thank the team of emergency and medical professionals who helped provide the care needed.

"I'm just humbled to be at the diligence of our city's emergency response team, as well as the technology involved in my treatment," Armijo said.

They along with Armijo received a special recognition Monday night by Plano City Council members.

"I feel like I'm extremely lucky, lucky to be able to lead a normal life because of the first responders, responders and the medical team here in Plano,” Armijo said. “They are the reason I'm standing here today. So, thank you from the bottom of my heart."

According to Medical City Plano, the ECMO program has been used 23 times and resulted in a survival rate double the national average.

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