Opelika artist survives near death illness

OPELIKA, Ala. -- Last December Whitley Purnell had a routine tonsillectomy. But a few days later she was on life support. Whitley's mother says her daughter suffered from respiratory failure and sepsis, a severe blood infection that can lead to organ failure and death. Her lungs no longer worked. But her family took a leap of faith on  something they had never heard of. It was a machine called ECMO or Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation..

"At this point as a parent you think that that's the last step. They have her on life support and there's nothing else to do," said Charlina Roberts, Whitley's mother.

ECMO takes over the work of the lungs while the patient's body recovers. East Alabama Medical Center got Whitley ready.

"They cannulated her which means they put in like an I.V. which is really large in her neck and in her groin, " said Roberts.

Then Emory, ECMO onboard,  sent a jet for Whitley. Dr. James Blum is the director of Emory's ECMO Center.

"Our goal is to have zero mortalities in transport and so far we've been quite successful in that endeavor," said Dr. Blum.

Dr. Blum says Emory treats about 60 patients a year on ECMO. They've flown in patients from as far away as las Vegas for the life-saving procedure.

While on ECMO, Whitley's situation became grave due to some common risks. She suffered 13 strokes and bleeding of her brain. But today the 26-year old is thriving. She's back to painting portraits, something she loves.

To learn more about how ECMO works, CLICK HERE.

To see some of Whitley's art and to learn more about her life,  CLICK HERE.

Whitley was in her twenties when she went through all of  this. But the privacy rule of the Health Insurance Portability and Accountability Act -- or HIPPA -- says that once a child is legally an adult, which in most states is 18 -- parents have no more right to their child's medical information than they would to the information of a stranger on the street. We're on your side with a link to a resource  for parents to get the proper forms to fill out *before there's a health crisis involving your adult child so you can make decisions CLICK HERE.

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