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Ultrasound for Critical Care Physicians: Caught in the Act

Uzoamaka Ogbonnah MD1

Isaac Tawil MD2

Trenton C. Wray MD2

Michel Boivin MD1


1Department of Internal Medicine

2Department of Emergency Medicine

University of New Mexico School of Medicine

Albuquerque, NM USA


A 16-year-old man was brought to the Emergency Department via ambulance after a fall from significant height. On arrival to the trauma bay, the patient was found to be comatose and hypotensive with a blood pressure of 72/41 mm/Hg. He was immediately intubated, started on norepinephrine drip with intermittent dosing of phenylephrine, and transfused with 3 units of packed red blood cells. He was subsequently found to have extensive fractures involving the skull and vertebrae at cervical and thoracic levels, multi-compartmental intracranial hemorrhages and dissection of the right cervical internal carotid and vertebral arteries. He was transferred to the intensive care unit for further management of hypoxic respiratory failure, neurogenic shock and severe traumatic brain injury. Following admission, the patient continued to deteriorate and was ultimately declared brain dead 3 days later. The patient’s family opted to make him an organ donor

On ICU day 4, one day after declaration of brain death, while awaiting organ procurement, the patient suddenly developed sudden onset of hypoxemia and hypotension while being ventilated. The patient had a previous trans-esophageal echo (TEE) the day prior (Video 1). A repeat bedside TEE was performed revealing the following image (Video 2).

Video 1. Mid-esophageal four chamber view of the right and left ventricle PRIOR to onset of hypoxemia.


Video 2. Mid-esophageal four chamber view of the right and left ventricle AFTER deterioration.

What is the cause of the patient’s sudden respiratory deterioration? (Click on the correct answer to be directed to an explanation)

  1. Atrial Myxoma
  2. Fat emboli syndrome
  3. Thrombus in-transit and pulmonary emboli
  4. Tricuspid valve endocarditis

Cite as: Ogbonnah U, Tawil I, Wray TC, Boivin M. Ultrasound for critical care physicians: Caught in the act. Southwest J Pulm Crit Care. 2018;17(1):36-8. doi: PDF 

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