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Meet Terry Perrotta

Rhode Island Hospital Patient Terry PerrottaImagine you’re 53 years old and are struggling to breathe. You don’t know if you will survive the night. You are devastated you may never kiss your children again.

At 53, Terry Perrotta was literally facing death. Diagnosed with a rare form of pulmonary hypertension known as pulmonary veno-occlusive disease (PVOD), her only hope for survival was a double-lung transplant. She was placed on the waiting list at the Cleveland Clinic, a center known for complicated lung transplants. But Terry’s PVOD rapidly worsened, causing an extreme increase in blood pressure in her pulmonary arteries.

She was gasping for breath, turning blue and losing consciousness when she was rushed to Rhode Island Hospital’s Emergency Department.

Terry was now sick enough to move to the top of the transplant list, but she was too medically fragile for the flight to Cleveland and the transplant surgery that would save her life. Yet in this cruel twist of fate, there was a silver lining.

Rhode Island Hospital has the first and only Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) machine in Rhode Island. ECMO is a system that functions similar to heart-lung bypass and does the work of the patient’s heart and lungs temporarily, allowing them to rest and recover.

When Terry was put on ECMO, her blood oxygen levels registered only a 50, about half the desirable level of 90 or above. Her two children, ages 22 and 20, were terrified they were going to lose their mother.

Dr. Muratore, director of the ECMO program at Rhode Island Hospital, calmly explained to them what would be done to buy Terry the time to get to Cleveland for the lung transplant. "ECMO is not a cure; it’s a bridge to recovery. Her lungs aren’t going to get any better, but her heart is now giving out because the lungs had already given out," said Dr. Muratore.

The question remained whether Terry could be transported to Cleveland while on ECMO. Very few facilities are equipped to handle it. Fortunately, both hospitals were able to make it work. The complicated operation to connect Terry to ECMO was successful, and her blood oxygen levels began to improve. Two days later, she was airlifted to Cleveland to get her new lungs.

"I feel such gratitude to everyone at Rhode Island Hospital. They definitely saved my life. The whole team just kept working for me, saying ‘yes, we can do this’ all along the way," Terry says. "Without ECMO, I would not be alive today. I’m grateful to be here to be a part of my children’s lives."

Your support of Rhode Island Hospital is so important to the health of our community and families like Terry's. Please consider making a gift today. As always, thank you so much for caring, for giving.

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