What is ECMO?
ECMO (pronounced “eck-moe”) is an extracorporeal membrane oxygenation treatment that provides short-term emergency life support for patients with a failing heart, lungs or both. ECMO is a machine that replaces the function of the heart and/or lungs for patients, allowing physicians time to treat patients suffering from the most critical conditions. For example, ECMO is used during life-threatening conditions such as severe lung damage from infection, shock after a massive heart attack, or — more recently — for patients suffering from severe cases of coronavirus.
“As Greater Cincinnati’s only adult heart transplant program, we believe no one should have to leave the region to receive the care they need, especially patients who are critically ill or injured,” said Suzanne Bennett, MD, UC Health anesthesiologist intensivist and associate professor of anesthesiology and critical care medicine at the UC College of Medicine. “ECMO provides the medical team time, so we can give the patient the necessary therapy to treat the underlying illness or injury that is causing the patients’ heart or lungs to fail.”
How does ECMO work?
ECMO removes blood from the body through tubes surgically placed in veins or arteries, then oxygen is added and carbon dioxide is removed from the blood before it returns to the body. Patients are given medication to thin their blood to prevent clotting, which helps the ECMO machine work at full capacity. Additionally, patients receive frequent imaging while labs are performed to assist with their care.
“As a cardiac surgeon, I put people on cardiopulmonary bypass every day,” said Louis Benson Louis IV, MD, chief of Cardiac Surgery at UC Medical Center. “The ECMO circuit is just another form of cardiopulmonary bypass, but we now take it out of the operating room to the patients’ bedside. We’re working together in order to improve their care.”