ECMO (Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation)

ECMO, or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, is a machine used to support children, and sometimes adults, whose heart and lungs are unable to function at necessary levels. It is similar to a heart-lung bypass machine, but is outside the body. A membrane oxygenator is used to deliver oxygen to the blood.

ECMO is used on children with severe heart failure, as well as children with very severe lung disease that can not be treated with medications, oxygen, or a ventilator. It can only be used in children whose underlying disease can be reversed within two weeks.

There are two types of ECMO – venous arterial (VA), which supports heart and lungs, and veno venous (VV), which supports only the lungs.

ECMO Procedure Details

The pediatric surgeon in the ICU will place two tubes (cannula) into the side of your child's neck, one in the large vein that will go to the right side of the heart and the other in either a large vein (in VV cases) or large artery (in VA cases).

The dark blood with little oxygen drains by gravity into the first cannula and into the ECMO machine and is returned bright red with oxygen into the second cannula.

The ECMO machine consists of a pump, which functions as an artificial heart that pushes blood through ECMO and back to the body, and an oxygenator – artificial lungs that clear the blood of carbon dioxide and allow for the uptake of oxygen. Your child will also be on a ventilator.

The ECMO machine works at full capacity initially and then is slowed down as the patient responds appropriately.

ECMO Risks

  • Heparin, given to prevent clots from the cannula, can lead to bleeding problems
  • Increased risk of infection
  • Risk of bleeding in the brain

More Information about ECMO

For more details on ECMO, visit Children’s Medical Center.

To schedule an appointment with a heart expert at UT Southwestern's facilities in Dallas or for more information about our services, request an appointment or call 214-645-8300.