Methodist ECMO Clinician: ‘This Is Modern Medicine At Its Best’

Dennis Disney is a calming, caring force there at a time – usually a very scary time — for patients and their families. ECMO is reserved for the sickest of patients, often a last resort for those with life-threatening lung and heart problems.  

Dennis Disney remembers those warm summer nights at his hometown fair.

It was magical. The rides and the games and the prizes. The elephant ears and the corndogs and the cotton candy.

But something else stood out to Disney: The LifeLine helicopter that sat on the fairgrounds, up close and personal.

It was captivating, so thrilling to even think about — an aircraft that raced to the scenes of accidents and traumas, picked up patients and then rushed them to the hospital.

As Disney became an adult, he’d see LifeLine flying overhead – all over the place.

“I always thought, ‘Where does that go?’ Disney says.

He soon found out. That helicopter flew to IU Health Methodist Hospital. 

“My desire always was to take care of the sickest patients I could take care of,” says Disney. “Methodist is where the sick patients are.”


Judge Jones is lying in a hospital bed in the cardiovascular critical care unit on the second floor of Methodist.

He is hooked up to a machine that performs ECMO, which stands for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation.

Jones is fighting for his life and he’s had Disney by his side every step of the way. Disney, a respiratory therapist at Methodist since 1994, has been an ECMO clinician for the past seven years.

“From the day I came in this hospital, I felt it with him,” Jones said this week of Disney. “He’s right there by your side and he will hold your hand and he will get you through the tough times.”

Sitting next to Jones’ bed is his daughter, Izzy Fiesel.

“It brings me to tears, being so thankful that we have people like Dennis helping with dad,” says Fiesel. “I’m telling you, I just love him.

His patience, his kindness, just everything.”

Disney is a calming, caring force there at a time – usually a very scary time — for patients and their families.

ECMO is reserved for the sickest of patients, often a last resort for those with life-threatening lung and heart problems. It is a series of equipment and tubes that provides heart-lung bypass. ECMO allows those organs to rest.

“It buys the body time to recover,” Disney says. “I really think it’s modern medicine at its best.”


And Methodist Hospital is one of the best at performing ECMO. Just last month, it became one of only 14 hospitals in the world to be named a Platinum Level ECLS center for ECMO care.

“We are a world class program delivering state of the art care with unbelievable results and outcomes,” says David W. Roe, M.D., a pulmonologist and medical director of lung transplant at Methodist. “I am so proud of all the ECMO team members.”

This honor puts Methodist in an elite category. There are 686 ECLS Centers registered in the world with ELSO and only 14 are Platinum Level — 0.02 percent.

“We got a fabulous award and we are very proud of this award,” says Disney. “But we are far more proud of the patients we are able to return to the family, patients able to have a new quality of life. It’s remarkable.”

Disney says without support provided by the perfusion team, CVCC and respiratory, the ECMO program would not be a success. There are 24 bedside ECMO clinicians, which are drawn from a pool of nurses and respiratory therapists, as well as perfusionists to assist.

A patient on ECMO is never left alone; there is always someone with them.

“Our primary responsibility is to protect the patient,” Disney says.

It’s exactly what he dreamed of doing all those years ago.

“I firmly believe in my heart that this is what I’m supposed to be doing,” he says. “Whatever path I took to get here, this is where I was meant to be.”

More with Disney

Growing up: Disney was born in Middletown, Ind., the youngest of three siblings. His dad worked in a factory and his mom owned a bakery, a gourmet wedding cake creator. 

Education: After graduating from Shenandoah High School, Disney spent four years in the United States Army. He then went to Ball State University to become a respiratory therapist. He chose the field after seeing his mom suffer from pneumonia and COPD.

Personal: He is married to Barb, whom he met at Methodist. She has been a nurse at the hospital for 33 years.

Outside of Methodist: The Disneys volunteer for Indy Honor Flight, assisting veterans from World War II and the Korean and Vietnam wars to travel to Washington, D.C. to visit the memorials.  

— By Dana Benbow, Senior Journalist at IU Health.

   Reach Benbow via email or on Twitter @danabenbow.