After a near death experience, a Bank of America VP started the charity all of Wall Street is talking about

Noah Cooper ECMO
Noah Cooper (second from right), Rob Sanzillo (right), and friends. Courtesy of Noah Cooper

One minute Noah Cooper was jogging on the treadmill in his apartment complex gym; the next he was passed out with an arrhythmia  — a condition causing his heart to beat irregularly  — while a neighbour performed CPR.

And that wasn’t even the worst of it. Cooper, then 27, a vice president at Bank of America Merrill Lynch, encountered severe complications during his recovery at Bellevue Hospital  — and in the end, only a little-known, underfunded technology at Columbia Presbyterian Hospital was able to save his life.

That was two years ago, and now Cooper is on a mission to promote the treatment that saved him —  “extracorporeal membrane oxygenation,” or ECMO.

Cooper partnered with close friend Rob Sanzillo, an attorney at Herrick Feinsten in New York, and founded Hearts of ECMO to raise money for research and to help spread the technology to hospitals around the country.

Essentially, ECMO technology works as an external, mechanical lung and/or heart to help oxygenate someone’s blood when their own organs stop working. It pumps blood out of the patient’s body through a tube, oxygenates the blood in a machine, and returns it to the heart through another tube.

Here’s an explainer from Hearts of ECMO’s website:

In Cooper’s case, his lungs were seriously damaged when doctors induced a coma and put him into “therapeutic hypothermia” after the treadmill incident to minimise damage to his organs. They had him breathing on a respirator, but then couldn’t take him off of it until his lungs had healed. That’s why he needed the ECMO treatment.

Sanzillo’s story

Throughout Cooper’s month-long hospital stay, Sanzillo, who’d met Cooper back during their college baseball days (Sanzillo played for Johns Hopkins University and Cooper for Columbia), visited him nearly every day.

Then, just weeks after Cooper’s treatment, Sanzillo’s own father suffered complications from a heart transplant and suddenly needed ECMO treatment too.

At the time, Sanzillo didn’t realise how rare ECMO treatment was. But its impact, for him, was obvious.

“Without it, I would have lost my dad and my best friend,” he said.

He and Cooper set a $US25,000 fundraising goal for 2015, but already they have raised closer to $US80,000.

To do more (and to celebrate what they have done so far) they’re holding a Spring Benefit at 404 in Manhattan on Saturday complete with cocktails, hors d’houvres, and dancing. Expect young Wall Street is sure to be there en masse.

“ECMO is something that doesn’t receive the proper attention and receive the proper funding,” Cooper said. “We thought that starting something to help a cause that’s so meaningful to us would definitely be rewarding.” 

Check out their Saturday event or the Hearts of Ecmo website for more information on how to get involved.

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