ExtraCorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) is a form of advanced cardiac life support that becomes the patient’s heart, lungs, or both, while allowing these vital organs to recover. During a run on ECMO, the patient’s blood flows through external tubing to an artificial lung (oxygenator) in which the blood is filled with oxygen and has carbon dioxide removed. The blood is then delivered back to the body through external tubing by an external mechanical pump. The external mechanical pump is the driving force for pushing the blood through the circuit, and is responsible for 60-80 percent of cardiac output (blood flow), allowing for some blood to still pass through heart and lungs as with normal circulation.
The ECMO program at the Willis-Knighton Heart & Vascular Institute is designed for adult patients and provides care in a tertiary level adult intensive care unit. This highly specialized treatment is managed by a multidisciplinary team which includes cardiovascular or thoracic surgeons, critical care intensivists, ECMO specialists (respiratory therapists, perfusionists, and registered nurses. This program specializes in venoarterial (V-A) ECMO, which provides cardiac support for the patient as the heart recovers from injury. While ECMO is not a cure for the underlying cause of cardiac failure, it does allow time for recuperation, response to conventional therapies, or transplant. Willis-Knighton is a registered member of the International ExtraCorporeal Life Support Organization (ELSO) and actively participates in the registry.