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Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) is a life-saving medical therapy used when someone has heart or lung failure. Our team of experts helps your loved one’s heart and lungs rest so their body can focus on recovery.

Our team’s goal is to give your loved one the best possible quality of life after treatment. On this page, we’ll help you understand what ECMO is, why people need it and what to expect during the hospital stay.

Conditions We Treat

We help patients experiencing any of the following:

  • Heart attack
  • Heart failure
  • Respiratory failure
  • Pulmonary embolism
  • Shock
  • COVID-19
  • Awaiting organ transplant

Our Children’s Hospital cares for kids who need ECMO treatment.

What to Expect

Your loved one may need ECMO when their heart or lungs need help functioning. ECMO is considered when a patient doesn’t respond well to other treatments, like a ventilator.

We offer the most treatment options in the area for patients with heart or lung failure. Our team will provide a unique treatment plan according to your loved one's needs.

How ECMO Works

ECMO is a form of life support where a machine helps circulate blood, adding oxygen and removing carbon dioxide. ECMO itself is not a treatment, but it does give the heart and lungs time to rest. During this critical period, doctors can continue providing care for any illnesses present.

Our specialists start ECMO by inserting two thin tubes (cannulae) into the veins and arteries. The ECMO machine draws and returns blood through the tubes, adding oxygen. During this process, your loved one is given medication to help them feel more comfortable.

As a patient recovers from their illness, the ECMO machine may no longer be needed. Slowly, the machine’s functions are reduced so heart and lung function can return naturally. If your loved one’s heart and lungs aren’t ready to resume normal function, we’ll work with you to explore appropriate next steps.

Treatment

Depending on a patient’s condition, ECMO may be needed for a few days to a few weeks. Results depend on the severity of the underlying condition. Our team will help you and your loved one understand the potential benefits and risks of ECMO.

We help your loved one manage recovery with daily assessments of the heart and lungs. Vital signs and blood tests are closely monitored by our specialists to measure recovery. As we learn more each day, we work with patients and families to make decisions regarding ongoing care.

While ECMO is a life-saving treatment, it’s also a serious procedure with potential complications. We work closely with a number of highly-trained specialists to reduce the risk of serious complications, including:

  • Bleeding and damage to the legs
  • Blood clot
  • Blood loss in the limbs
  • Stroke
  • Seizure
  • Infection
  • Kidney failure

Types of ECMO

  • Veno-Venous ECMO, for patients with respiratory failure. The machine helps oxygenate blood, remove carbon dioxide and return blood via a central vein to the body.
  • Veno-Arterial ECMO, for patients with cardiac failure or patients with both cardiac and respiratory failure. The machine helps with blood circulation and oxygenation.

Your Care Team

  • A dedicated ECMO specialist for the duration of treatment
  • Cardiac surgeons with expertise setting up the cannulae for ECMO
  • Critical care physicians and nurses from the ICU
  • A respiratory therapist from our team of lung specialists
  • A perfusionist (heart-lung machine operator)
  • An ECMO coordinator, in charge of the team’s communication and collaboration

Follow-Up and Support Resources

Your loved one may continue receiving care for their illness after ECMO treatment ends. We’ll help coordinate whatever care is needed next, including:

  • Cardiac rehabilitation, to help improve heart health
  • Specialty care from any area needed for an illness or recovery
  • Palliative care, to provide relief from symptoms and the best possible quality of life