MONTREAL -- Doctors at the MUHC found a way to save a patient’s life using a technique known as ECMO – extracorporeal membrane oxygenation.

Gatineau firefighter Kenny Bruton is an imposing figure. The mixed martial artist, however, found himself fighting for his life when what he thought was the flu in early March turned out to be a rare bacterial infection commonly known as the “flesh-eating disease,” an illness that can kill an adult in a matter of hours.

“I started work, and all-of-a-sudden I couldn’t move my arm anymore, (and) I had a fever,” said Bruton. “They (doctors) asked my two sons if they wanted to say their final goodbyes to me. My condition was really, really bad.”

Bruton was transferred immediately to the McGill University Health Centre (MUHC) where critical care physician Dr. Gordon Samoukovic knew the situation was dire.

“When he arrived from the Montreal General Hospital, he was in profound shock and with minimal signs of functioning organs at the time, and required urgent care,” said Simoukovic. “The odds of survival with everything we could have done at that time were miniscule.”

Bruton’s life was saved when he was hooked up to an ECMO machine, which is a type of respirator the hospital uses for COVID-19 patients that basically takes over your heart and lung functions.

Bruton spent two weeks plugged into it, as doctors worked to save his internal organs.

“When we first started, the machines were very big and very complicated to manoeuvre,” said perfusionist May Tam. “But as time evolved, the machine is so portable that we’re able to go outside of the hospital put a patient on and come back very safetly.”

Bruton recalls nothing of what he went through after two weeks of being in a coma.

“Once I woke up, I saw my family and once I saw the doctor that was the first question I asked,” he said. “They told me they didn’t have to cut anything, my body is going to recuperate.”

Bruton is now recovering and will soon return to work. His doctor said his exceptional physical shape played a role in his recovery.