“I have always wanted to push myself to be the best clinician I can be. I love critical care medicine,” said Matthew Weidner, flight paramedic with Air Evac Lifetime (AEL) 172 in Mount Vernon, Illinois.
Weidner, who doesn’t hide his joy and enthusiasm over his recent extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) certification— a special accomplishment and a first for AEL— says his newly acquired credentials enables him to help patients who are suffering from some of the worst breathing difficulties ever imagined.
“This certification ensures that I am competent and capable of safely monitoring and managing patients on ECMO support. These patients are some of the sickest that many of us will ever encounter and require specialty care,” he said.
Medical institutions, such as the Mayo Clinic describe the ECMO intervention as blood being pumped outside of the body to a heart-lung machine that removes carbon dioxide and sends oxygen-filled blood back to tissues in the body. The process allows blood to keep moving through the body, circumventing the heart and lungs, so these organs can rest.
“ECMO is becoming more widely utilized in recent years, especially with the rise of COVID. There are more and more hospitals that are able to cannulate and place patients on support, however, are not able to keep and manage those patients,” said Weidner. “My hopes are for AEL to bring this level of care and transport to the communities we serve, providing a resource that can safely monitor, manage and transport these patients, so they can reach tertiary care. Patients who suffer from some acute illnesses that were at one time considered essentially death sentences, if not being treated at a specialty center, are now having a chance of survival and recovery due to these advances.”
Weidner’s zeal for all things ECMO started while he was working for a previous air medical provider, who he says extended the ECMO transport program to his base. “That’s when I started to train for the program, reaching out for any education I could acquire on this technique, and in doing so, I fell in love with ECMO along with other assist devices, “ he said.
And while “love” can go a long way in motivating an individual to follow an interest, it doesn’t always guarantee a successful outcome.
“This was, hands down, the most challenging exam I have ever taken, FP-C and CCP-C included,” recalls Weidner. “This isn’t something that I can see people signing up for and just taking as a regular continuing education class — it takes passion for perfusion and extracorporeal medicine. For those clinicians who share this excitement, I would absolutely encourage them to go this route.”
Weidner hopes his story will influence others like him in the EMS industry to continue looking for opportunities where they can not only grow in their education and training, but also provide innovative and vital care to those who need it the most.
“Being a flight paramedic and ECMO specialist weren’t always my plan. However, advancing myself and becoming more specialized in critical care medicine was. As my career progressed, I made decisions toward the specialties that I most enjoyed,” he said. “I find my work rewarding. And achieving my ECMO specialist certification is one of my professional achievements that I am most proud of. I worked hard for it and feel that it will allow me to make a difference in the lives of patients and their families who have exhausted all other options for a safe transport.