George Sutherland, M.B.A., R.R.T.-N.P.S. (pictured middle right), is going places. And while he certainly excels in his role as Rady Children’s Hospital-San Diego’s extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) coordinator, we mean this literally. That’s because in Nov. 2018, Sutherland led a group of Rady Children’s ECMO experts on a volunteer trip to China, where they helped train 25 practitioners at Chengdu Women’s and Children’s Central Hospital on this life-saving technology and establish a neonatal ECMO program. Sutherland’s fellow volunteers included Denise Suttner, M.D. (pictured middle left); Jose Honold, M.D.; Carlos Ramos, M.D.; Erika Fernandez, M.D. and ECMO Primes Lutchi Abraham, B.S.N., R.N., C.C.R.N.; Elana Sterling, B.S.N., R.N., C.C.R.N.; Arjumand Gutierrez, B.S.N., R.N., C.C.R.N.; and Patricia Belmares, B.S.N., R.N., C.C.R.N.
ECMO is a complex form of cardiac bypass technology that uses mechanical devices to support heart and/or lung function in severe heart or lung failure that is unresponsive to conventional care. ECMO removes deoxygenated blood from the body; oxygenates, ventilates and warms the blood through an artificial lung; and returns the blood to the patient via a cannula, or medical tube. Rady Children’s is equipped with seven ECMO pumps and has a staff ECMO prime, who can put patients on ECMO and oversee their care once a surgeon places their access catheters, in-house 24/7. Rady Children’s is the only hospital in San Diego County that offers this service to pediatric patients, and has managed the care of more than 700 children since beginning its ECMO program in 1987.
Sutherland is the sole pediatric ECMO coordinator in San Diego County. He oversees all aspects of Rady Children’s ECMO operations, builds custom circuits and prepares pumps for use, and works closely with the Hospital’s eight ECMO primes. He also collaborates with physicians and nurses on patient care plans, manages ECMO training and competencies, and supervises a 35-person team of ECMO specialists.
A former United States Navy Hospital Corpsman, Sutherland is also a licensed registered respiratory therapist (R.R.T.) — in fact, he was an R.R.T. at Rady Children’s in 2004 when he discovered his interest in ECMO. In order to administer ECMO care in any capacity, one must be a registered nurse, a respiratory care practitioner or a perfusionist. Sutherland honed his ECMO craft when his career journey took him to Children’s Medical Center Dallas through 2015. He then returned to Rady Children’s in his current role.
Sutherland says pediatric ECMO is a highly specialized field, so it was a significant and exciting recognition for Rady Children’s to be selected from the more than 300 children’s hospitals across the nation — and hundreds more around the world — to join forces with the Chengdu hospital for this 10-day training initiative. “It was an honor and a privilege to be invited, and learn about their culture firsthand,” George expresses. “Being at the hospital in Chengdu was enlightening, and we greatly appreciate the wonderful opportunity to forge international ties and advance this amazing technology to help more children.” Along with connecting with the practitioners at Chengdu Women’s and Children’s Central Hospital, Sutherland and the team were able to be a part of the hospital’s first annual ECMO training conference, which garnered about 100 attendees.
Looking ahead, China is by no means the last stop for this globetrotting team of volunteers. While they plan to return in fall 2019, George notes they’ve also received inquiries from a children’s hospital in Mexico City, and aim to expand their adventures from there. Bon voyage!