Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) is used when a patient has severe respiratory or cardiac failure. It provides support when the patient’s heart or lungs are unable to sustain life.
ECMO is used for a short period, typically days to weeks, until the patient recovers or receives more treatment.
It was initially used to treat children with organ failure, and has evolved into a life-saving therapy for adults as well. ECMO can now be used in patients of all ages.
ECMO works by restoring blood flow to the body.
An ECMO system has two main parts: an artificial blood pump and an artificial lung. The machine is connected to the patient by inserting two tubes into the patient’s arteries through the neck, chest or groin. One tube takes blood to the pump, and the other takes blood back to the body.
The pump moves blood across the artificial lung, where gasses do the work of breathing. This allows blood flow carrying oxygen to be delivered to the person’s body and organs.
ECMO can be a life-saving treatment, but there are still risks to consider. The patient’s healthcare team can work to minimize these risks.
Possible risks of ECMO include:
Dr. Prasad, the Chief of Cardiac Surgery at UR Medicine, has special expertise in the use of mechanical devices to help patients who are in heart or respiratory failure.
Dr. Prasad has helped pioneer the next generation of ECMO, known as “walking ECMO,” which uses portable devices that allow patients to get out of bed and walk with their device, often reducing complications and improving outcomes.