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AJC article features Dr. Laney, Jeff Davis Hospital

A recent issue of the Atlanta Journal-Constitution carried a front page story on the work of Hazlehurst’s Dr. Jason Laney and Jeff Davis Hospital in fighting to save the life of Jeff Davis High School Principal Greer Smith, who was stricken with a severe case of COVID-19.
Written by Ariel Hart, the article detailed how Dr. Laney and nurses at Jeff Davis Hospital had called scores of hospitals and medevac companies to find a bed where Smith could be treated with an artificial lung machine called ECMO (Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation).
With the surge of cases of the Delta variant of COVID-19 across the southeast, most beds with ECMO machines were already filled with patients.
As the story said, saving just one patient’s life, in this case Smith’s life, involved dozens of caregivers working around the clock — not for hours, or for days, but for weeks.
In normal times, Smith could have been transferred to Savannah’s Memorial Health. But Memorial, like Jeff Davis Hospital, was overflowing.
When Smith showed up at Jeff Davis Hospital in late July, he was in more trouble than he knew.
Laney quickly became convince the principal was in grave danger.
He put him on an oxygen pump but that didn’t help. Laney decided Smith was more likely to die than not if he couldn’t get on an ECMO machine. ECMO machines let the lungs rest and heal. The machine acts for the lungs, filtering the blood, putting in oxygen, and pumping it back into the body.
Laney felt that if Smith stayed in Hazlehurst, he might have a 30% chance of staying alive.
The hospital had already done all it could — and more — to treat the sudden surge of patients suffering from COVID infections. Hospital CEO Barry Bloom hunted desperately for more equipment. Bloom drove 150 miles in his Chevy Silverado to borrow a ventilator, as he had in a previous wave of COVID-19.
And Laney had been going the extra mile as well. As beds fill up, he shut down his regular patient hours and took over all shifts in the ICU.
Many nights, Laney slept only three or four hours.
And he bore the weight of each patient.
Laney got on Google and searched for “ecmo availability.” Then he and other staff called ICU doctors in hopes those calls might be at a moment when a hospital’s patient had been discharged and the bed unfilled.
Laney called Northside Hospital which had a new ECMO program. Dr. Allison Dupont, who came to Northside Hospital Gwinnett to start an ECMO program, said she thought she had a bed but then said “no.” The bed needed to be saved for Northside’s own seriously ill patients who might need ECMO treatment.
But Laney didn’t take no for an answer. In tearful pleadings, Dr. Dupont reconsidered, in tears herself. Finally she said, “We’ll take him, we’ll take him.”
When the helicopter arrived, the crew didn’t think Smith, a very large man, would fit in the helicopter.
Again, Laney wouldn’t take no for an answer. “I was like, ‘Man, listen. He’s going to fit. That’s all there is to it,’” Laney was quoted in the AJC article.
ECMO at Northside saved Smith. He spent 20 days there.
Smith’s wife, Stephanie, relocated to the Atlanta area to be close to her husband even though she couldn’t be beside his bed. Family, cared for the couple’s two children back in Hazlehurst.
Two nurses at Northside cared for Smith around the clock for those 20 days. They constantly monitored him. When Smith came out of his coma, he was able to sit up and then stand. The Northside staff erupted in a cheer.
Laney put together a video of photos of Smith, from the gurney at Jeff Davis Hospital to his coma on ECMO, to his reunion with his children, son Kellan, 10, and daughter Emerson Rose, 4. Dupont watches it, again and again.
Within weeks, Smith was back at Jeff Davis High School.
Smith considers what happened to him a miracle. He and Stephanie are trying to repay the doctors and nurses by encouraging people to get vaccinated.
They had chosen not to get vaccinated, because they were young and healthy. They’ve changed their minds.

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