Decades-old treatment giving new hope to coronavirus patients: 'I'm very thankful'

JACKSON -- A decades-old therapy is giving new hope to coronavirus patients. Doctors say the treatment helped save the life of a man from Jackson.

Billy Schulz

27-year-old Billy Schulz was given a 50/50 chance at survival after his coronavirus illness quickly took a scary turn. The treatment he received made a huge difference in his recovery.

"I've been told by almost every medical professional, every nurse that I am a medical miracle," Schulz said.

A little over a week ago, the road to recovery was not looking good for Schulz. The truck driver became ill after returning from a job delivering essential goods to COVID-19 hotspots.

"Throwing up all day, had a fever, cold one minute, hot the next, muscle aches. I had every symptom there was of coronavirus," said Schulz.

He was rushed to a West Bend hospital when it became overwhelming.

"I got to the ER at four in the afternoon, by five I was in intensive care and by eight I was sedated and they had a breathing tube," he said.

Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machine

Days later, he was moved to Froedtert for an advanced treatment to help him heal. An extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machine -- or ECMO -- was used to give his lungs a break.

Dr. Lucian Durham

"It supports the patients while we either treat the problem or allow their body to get over it," said Dr. Lucian Durham, who says ECMO has been used on six coronavirus patients at Froedtert.

The machine is normally used for those with heart and lung issues.

"ECMO allows us to mainly take over the lung function and that's what the COVID-19 is attacking, primarily the lungs," Lucian said.

Schulz showed signs of improvement, and after five-and-a-half days on the machine, he was taken off -- nearly recovered. The 27-year-old says he was inspired to fight, motivated by support from family and strangers who rallied for him -- and the unending care of medical staff.

Billy Schulz

"I'm lost for words, but I'm very thankful," he said. "Without them, I would for sure be dead right now."

Schulz has no underlying health conditions. His doctor said the key to successful ECMO treatment was that it was done early in his diagnosis. Schulz said he may come home as soon as Sunday.