This story begins with video of a woman hooked up to an elaborate machine you've probably never seen before and it's keeping her alive. For this Troy woman, Beaumont doctors knew it was probably her last chance to survive Covid.
A mom watches Kristi Kowalski learn to walk recently, but this time the daughter is 29 years old and mom can only be with her virtually on an iPad.
"I can't believe your walking," she said.
When Kristi tested positive for Covid in November 2020 she never expected her strong body to completely shut down.
"Everyone says one minute I was texting and talking to them, the next we knew I was on a ventilator," she said.
When you inhale, your lungs oxygenate your blood, the heart pumps it. But in really sick Covid patients like Kristi, the lungs are too weak.
The ECMO removes all the blood from the body, oxygenates it, and pumps it back in - as the heart and lungs rest.
"Initially we provide them support with ventilators to help push the oxygen into the lungs," said Dr. Felicia Ivascu from Beaumont. "And to help it get into the blood. But sometimes the lungs are so sick, that doesn't work."
Dr. Ivascu knew her only option was the ECMO, a complex machine that removes all the blood from the body, oxygenates it, and pumps it back in - as the heart and lungs rest.
"This is where ECMO went in," Kristi said, pointing at two marks in her lower neck. "And it came out my leg."
"The biggest concern for patients with ECMO is that we are doing everything for them when it comes to giving them oxygen," said Dr. Ivascu. "If the machines were to stop, they instantaneously die, because it's like they're holding their breath."
Weeks go by and slowly Kristi's lungs heal, but the rest of her body is weak.
"My phone was too heavy to even lift up," she said.
It would take her weeks to sit up, then stand, then walk, while still connected to the ECMO. These were the first steps to a long recovery.
Now in physical therapy, still on medication, and using an oxygen tank, Kristi is getting stronger. While she looks forward, she also looks back.
"I got cards from people who are friends of friends," she said.
She can't have visitors because of Covid, but instead, cards and posters to celebrate the holidays as Kristi spent three months in the hospital.
While she doesn't remember much, she'll never forget how the team at Beaumont made her feel.
"They did 100 times more than you would ever expect a nurse to do," she said. "And I am thankful every single day for each and every one of them. Because without them I would probably be in a lot worse shape. I think mentally I would not have been okay. They kept me going, they told me how strong I was and I have to thank them for my life.
Kristi is also celebrating getting engaged shortly after getting home from her 90 days in the hospital.
When it comes to the ECMO and Covid patients, data is being collected around the world to see how it can help the sickest Covid patients survive, especially those who are young and relatively healthy before the infection - and those who can handle that treatment.
The belief is, without the ECMO, most of these patients would not have survived.