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Every Deep-Drawn Breath

A Critical Care Doctor on Healing, Recovery, and Transforming Medicine in the ICU

A world-renowned critical care doctor offers hope offers hope for patients, their families, and the future of medicine in this timely, urgent, and compassionate work about the devastating and little-known physical and emotional effects of ICU stays.

Dr. Wes Ely was on his first ICU rotation as a resident-in-training when he was assigned to a patient named Teresa, who was barely clinging to life. With the help of advanced medical technology Teresa survived, but six weeks later, she returned in a wheelchair with memory loss and a baffling bone condition. Dr. Ely had saved her life, but in other ways, he had failed her. Though he didn’t know it at the time, Teresa was the first case of post-intensive care syndrome (PICS) he would encounter, and unfortunately, she would not be the last.

Since then, Dr. Ely has conducted groundbreaking research into ICU-acquired diseases and brought his scientific findings to the bedside to provide better care for critically ill patients around the globe. His work has contributed to widely adopted protocols that improve the way healthcare is now delivered.

In this rich blend of science, history, moving patient stories like Teresa’s, and personal reflection, Dr. Ely, a leader in the field of ICU survivorship, journeys into the world of life-threatening illness and the devastation it wreaks in patients’ lives, long after its initial onset. He advocates for human-centered care in the technology-driven enclave of the modern ICU—saving lives whenever possible, providing dignity when death is inevitable, and offering support for patients after discharge. Dr. Ely offers guidance to future ICU patients and their families, and issues a wakeup call for healthcare professionals—himself included—to turn their gaze from the latest life-saving machinery and really see the person in the patient.

Over the next 10 years, 40 to 60 million people in this country will be admitted to the ICU, and the average American will have at least one ICU stay in their lifetime. Dr. Ely shows that there is now a proven path toward a better way of life for patients, and his book is an invaluable resource to anyone whose life will be touched by critical illness.

Courtesy of Dr. Wes Ely

E. Wesley Ely, MD, MPH, is an internist, pulmonologist, and critical care physician with over twenty-five years of experience in intensive care medicine. A tenured professor at Vanderbilt University since 2004, Dr. Ely earned his MD degree at Tulane University School of Medicine in conjunction with a Masters in Public Health (MPH) at Tulane University School of Public Health and Tropical Medicine. He serves as the Grant W. Liddle endowed chair of medicine and is a physician-scientist at Vanderbilt University Medical Center. He is also the associate director of aging research for the Tennessee Valley Veteran’s Affairs Geriatric Research Education Clinical Center (GRECC). He is the founder and codirector of the Critical Illness, Brain Dysfunction, and Survivorship (CIBS) Center, an organization that focuses on research and ongoing care for people affected by critical illness. Dr. Ely has had multiple original research studies published in The New England Journal, JAMA, and The Lancet, and his writing has appeared in The Wall Street Journal, The Washington Post, USA TODAY, CNN, and numerous other publications. He lives in Nashville with his family.