Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) is a form of life support used for babies, children and adults with life-threatening heart and/or lung problems. If your child has a severe heart and/or lung condition that has not responded to standard medical therapies, they may be recommended for support with ECMO.
ECMO provides time for the body to rest and recover by doing the work of the heart and lungs. This gives the patient time to rest and heal from the underlying illness. It is a modified form of heart-lung bypass and is used for a longer period than the machines used in the operating room during open-heart surgery.
Rady Children’s Hospital ECMO program opened in 1987. Since that time, over 700 patients have been supported with this technology.
We have received the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization Award of Excellence for three consecutive terms.
Our ECMO team is made up of physicians, nurses and respiratory therapists with expertise in this area.
Once your child is on the ECMO device, the ECMO physician will then be in charge of your child’s care. There may also be many other consulting physicians involved in the care of your child, such as a cardiologist, radiologist, pediatric surgeon, neurologist or nephrologist. Every day, you will have an ECMO specialist caring for your child. The ECMO specialists have special training that enables them to manage ECMO patients and ECMO equipment.
In addition, there are other people who are available to assist you and your family. Ask your child’s nurse to direct you to the social worker if you need assistance in obtaining temporary housing, meal tickets or parking vouchers, or if you need emotional support in dealing with your child’s illness. A chaplain is also available 24 hours a day. Child life specialists can help other children in the family deal with the stresses resulting from your child’s illness.
Risks and Complications
Circulating blood must be kept from clotting while it goes through the ECMO machine. The medication used to prevent clotting, increases the risk of bleeding. If bleeding of any kind occurs, the problems will be discussed with you in detail by the ECMO physician. The amount of medication needed will be monitored closely and steps will be taken to minimize any bleeding that occurs.
George Sutherland, M.B.A., R.R.T.-NPS