Melissa Barvels' Story

Melissa Barvels

“We’re just so appreciative of everything the hospital did for us. They saved not just one life, but two: mine and my son’s.”

Melissa’s ECMO Miracle

“My son was born two weeks into my 45-day coma,” Melissa Barvels recalls. Her family’s extraordinary journey began in December 2013, when Melissa was 25 weeks pregnant. “I wasn’t feeling well and stopped by a hospital near our home. I was told I had pneumonia – it was one of my last memories from December 23rd. The next thing I knew I woke up, it was February 5th, and I was at NewYork-Presbyterian.”

At the time of her visit to the county medical center, staff there realized there was nothing more they could do for her. They called NewYork-Presbyterian/Columbia University Medical Center to see if Melissa was a candidate for their ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation—an advanced form of life support used to restore lung function in patients experiencing cardiac or respiratory failure) program…and she was. On Christmas Eve, Dr. Matthew Bacchetta, Director of the Adult ECMO Program, accompanied Melissa from Staten Island to NYP/Columbia, where she was put in a medically induced coma.

Melissa’s troubles began when she contracted the swine flu, which developed into double pneumonia, which turned into ARDS (acute respiratory distress syndrome). However, she didn’t realize she needed a hospital with the expertise of NewYork-Presbyterian to make a full and complete recovery. “I never knew the difference before,” she says, “and I credit Dr. Bacchetta with saving not only my life, but also the life of my son Scotty.”

Scott was born at 28 weeks weighing just 2 pounds, 10 ounces, and was moved nearby to NewYork-Presbyterian/Morgan Stanley Children’s Hospital. “Scott was sort of a celebrity,” Melissa recalls with a laugh. “Everybody knew Scott’s name! They still recognize him now – and my husband, too, who was there every single day with me.”

While she knows she received excellent care at NewYork-Presbyterian, Melissa has no memory of it. “I have heard my story from everybody who was there,” she says. “My family talks about how well the Hospital took care of me and how they were kept informed. Everybody was so kind and took the best care of me throughout everything.”

Now, to help other families going through a similar situation, Melissa volunteers her time to talk them through it. “Because people don’t often know what to expect from ECMO, I am an example of someone who has recuperated well in the two years following my hospitalization. I show them that I went through this traumatic thing, too, and I’m okay –it gives people hope.

Melissa will never forget those who helped in her recovery. “I’m just so appreciative of everything that the staff at NewYork-Presbyterian did for us. We couldn’t be more thankful for every single person who had a part in our care.”