A YOUNG coma survivor came face to face with the man who developed the pioneering technique that saved her life.

Caitlan Wolsey, 24, was overcome with emotion as she met Professor Bob Bartlett, 77, the American doctor and medical researcher who developed the heart and lung bypass system, known as extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO).

The technique mechanically supports the patient’s circulation and gas exchange, normally performed by the heart and lungs, giving those organs an opportunity to recover. It was first used on seriously ill babies but is now being used on patients in their 80s. More than 50,000 lives are saved each year world-wide because of it including seriously ill babies.

Ten years ago Caitlan “drowned” in the bath after suffering her first epileptic seizure.

She spent 14 weeks on life-support and six months in hospital after suffering a cardiac arrest, a stroke, sepsis, severe pneumonia and collapsed lungs.

Miraculously she survived after being placed on an ECMO machine at the former Yorkhill Hospital.

Caitlan was introduced to Professor Bartlett at a major health conference yesterday at Glasgow’s Clyde Auditorium celebrating the advances of the world-renowned technique, where both were speakers.

Caitlan said: “I don’t know what to say because without you I wouldn’t be here.

“There are no words you can say to thank you, but thank you.”

When Caitlan was 13 she fell head-first into a bath after suffering what was believed to be her first epileptic seizure. She was found face-down in the water by her father Pete, having been submerged for up to 15 minutes.

Her parents were only alerted to what was happening when water began pouring through the kitchen ceiling.

Pete pulled Caitlan from the water and began CPR while waiting for an ambulance to arrive. She had stopped breathing and her fingers and toes were turning black.

Her parents Terry and Pete were told by doctors to prepare for the worse.

Caitlan, who is from St Cyrus, in Aberdeen-shire, was airlifted to Yorkhill Hospital in Glasgow and admitted under the care of paediatric consultant Dr Carl Davis in the ECMO unit.

She remained on the machine for up to two weeks and slowly her condition improved. However, her recovery was a long process and she had to learn to walk and talk and eat again. Her family, including brother Dominic, 27, and Robyn, 22, were with her every step of the way.

She said: “It’s crazy to think of what happened when I was in hospital. I don’t remember any of it.

“It was frustrating having to learn to do everything again. I remember feeling guilty for what my brother and sister had to sacrifice.”

Professor Bartlett, who is emeritus professor of surgery at the University of Michigan Medical School, reported the first neonatal survivor of ECMO, referred to as Baby Esperanza, in 1976.

Baby Esperanza suffered lung damage from meconium aspiration syndrome and she was so sick that ECMO was applied as a last-ditch effort to save her life. The baby spent three days on Bartlett’s machine and she recovered.

He said: “It’s always fun to meet patients.and it’s fascinating to see how it has grown.

“It started off as a few patients, now it’s a few thousands a year.

“We learned early on that it was a technique that would allow patients with heart and lung failure to live longer and recover. It’s a way of keeping patients alive.

“We have been using it in adults with heart and lung failure for the past 20 years. It has grown much more widespread because of the Swine Flu epidemic in 2008.

“Some people got really sick and the only thing that improved their condition was ECMO - 85% of patients survived.

“It’s much less expensive than dialysis or a transplant but it needs is the people who have learned how to do it. The teams and the expertise.”

Caitlan now works for a children’s charity, The Archie Foundation, which funds specialist equipment, supports families and fund research, helping around 175,000 sick children every year.

She said: “I was really inspired by everyone who worked so hard for me when I was unwell.”

Caitlan’s mum Terry said: “I feel genuine joy in my heart because we are the fortunate ones.

“ECMO has given us our daughter and giver her the chance to live the fulfilling life ahead of her.”