In a celebration of teamwork and collaboration during national Nurses Week, nurses, doctors and staff at Carondelet St. Mary’s Hospital recognized a patient’s recovery from COVID-19 after more than a month in the hospital. 

Retired paramedic Larry Delfs is being transferred to a long-term acute care facility following his treatment that included a team of nurses from Abrazo Arizona Heart Hospital.

The Abrazo Arizona Heart Hospital nurses traveled to Tucson twice to assist with patient care and staff education on using ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) to help treat Delf. It was early on in the coronavirus pandemic, with many questions unanswered about the virus and its transmission.

“It was not an easy decision for all of us, since we were leaving our families and knowingly going to a COVID patient to run ECMO. But we all took the risk as we felt it was our duty to help our sister facilities and also considered that the patient is a fellow staff member,” said Maricris Tallant, BSN, RN, CCRN, director of CVICU, Step Down Unit and Respiratory Therapy at Abrazo Arizona Heart Hospital.

Carondelet hospitals in Tucson are sister hospitals with Abrazo Health hospitals in greater Phoenix. Accompanying Tallant were Maria Gracia RN, BSN, CVICU Clinical Coordinator, and Jella Laquindanum,

“Mr. Delfs is an extraordinary case,” said Dr. Kapil Lotun, director of Carondelet’s Cardiac Cath Lab, Structural Heart Disease and Cardiovascular Service Line, who was part of Delfs’ care team.

After contracting COVID-19, Delfs initially was admitted to Carondelet St. Joseph’s Hospital. Over the next few days his pulmonary status worsened and he developed acute respiratory failure requiring intubation, maximum support for his circulatory system, and suffered an acute kidney injury. 

Delfs’ oxygenation continued downward, spiraling to extremely dangerous levels and he was transferred to St. Mary’s Hospital for specialized care. The decision was made to place him on ECMO to help with his oxygenation and cardiovascular support. Dr. Ranjith Shetty and Dr. Lotun placed the ECMO in attempt to stabilization condition. 

In the spirit of teamwork between the two hospitals, Carondelet administration arranged for Abrazo Arizona Heart Hospital nurses with ECMO experience to travel from Phoenix and provide support and education on the ECMO device for St. Mary’s Hospital staff. 

“If we had not used the ECMO device when we did, Mr. Delfs may not be alive today,” said Dr. Lotun.

“We got to Tucson on April 2 with a great welcome from their team. We proceeded to assess the patient and developed an education plan and gave bedside nursing support for the next three days,” said Tallant. 

“On April 9, I got another call from my chief nursing officer asking to send our ECMO machine to Tucson and help them transition the same patient to our machine. Jella, Maria and I got to St. Mary’s that afternoon. When we got there, we talked to the perfusionist, the cardiologist and staff so we all knew how to transition the patient to the cardiohelp ECMO and circuit. We then helped and guided them when the patient was switched from the tandemheart to the cardiohelp ECMO machine,” added Tallant. 

Delfs’ condition stabilized after three weeks on the ECMO device. Dr. Afshin Emami performed a tracheostomy on Delfs after he had been intubated for 21 days, which helped hasten his pulmonary recovery. 

“This success story was a great team effort,” Dr. Lotun says. “All the nurses, respiratory techs, and intensivists were the real heroes, at the bedside 24/7. The perfusionists and the nurses from Abrazo Arizona Heart Hospital who helped with the education were also incredibly helpful. Our administration was supportive throughout this whole endeavor, providing all the necessary equipment and PPE.” 

Family members and friends supported Delfs from a distance. Tucson Fire Department and Tucson Police Department staged a lights and sirens show last month for Delfs, showing their unity and solidarity. 

Today, Delfs is awake and doing well, able to communicate with his wife and children on a daily basis.

Delfs’ send off at St. Mary’s Hospital is set for May 7 at 3 p.m. His wife, family, and former co-workers at Tucson Fire and Police Department will be at his send off to cheer him on the rest of his journey. 

“Placing the ECMO that night saved Mr. Delfs’ life,” Dr. Lotun said. “The team effort of staff, physicians, family, hospital administration at St. Mary’s Hospital and community contributed to his success.” 

“It was a humbling feeling to be able to help our colleagues in a time that is both hard and risky. Carondelet St. Mary’s Carondelet CVICU staff were very enthusiastic and very receptive to the learning we had to share,” said Tallant. “We are happy to see them be able to run the machine and having all the necessary tools that they needed. We went home to Phoenix feeling triumphant.”