Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO)

ELSO Award

Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) is an advanced therapy that uses an ECMO machine to temporarily replace the function of the heart and lungs of critically ill patients recovering from severe lung damage or heart failure. Blood is pumped and oxygenated outside of the body, and then returned to the body, allowing the patient’s heart and lungs to rest.

Memorial’s ECMO program is made up of a multidisciplinary team of critical care, cardiac surgery, heart failure, and transplant surgery specialists who work together to support patients who come to us from across South Florida.

Memorial Regional Hospital and Joe DiMaggio Children’s Hospital have each been recognized with the Center of Excellence Gold Level ELSO Award for Excellence in Life Support from the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization (ELSO). The award highlights programs that have distinguished themselves by offering exceptional quality care in ECMO and boast processes and procedures that promote excellence.

How does ECMO work?

Smart Snippet: Video
Datasource: Peter's ECMO story      

The job of the heart and lungs is to circulate blood and oxygen throughout the body. When those organs are failing, ECMO is an advanced form of life support for patients who have a very high risk of death without it. ECMO does the work of the heart and lungs, using a pump and artificial lung to help those organs heal.

Two types of ECMO are used in adults:

  • Venoarterial ECMO provides complete or partial support to the heart and lungs
  • Venovenous ECMO provides complete or partial support to the lungs

When is ECMO used in adults?

ECMO is used for patients who are:

  • Awaiting a lung or heart transplant
  • Critically ill with respiratory failure from trauma or infections
  • Experiencing acute respiratory distress syndrome from a severe case of the flu or influenza
  • Suffering from cardiac arrest
  • Experiencing advanced heart failure
  • Recovering from heart failure, lung failure or heart surgery
  • Awaiting a heart assist device, such as a left ventricular assist device (LVAD) surgery

Learn how ECMO saved Jennie from severe lung failure.

How does the ECMO machine work?

The ECMO machine pumps and oxygenates a patient's blood outside the body, allowing the heart and lungs to rest. When connected to an ECMO, the patient’s blood flows through tubing to an artificial lung in the machine that adds oxygen and takes out carbon dioxide. Then, the blood is warmed to body temperature and pumped back into the body.

Depending on the disease or injury, patients may need the ECMO machine for a few hours. Other conditions may take longer to get better, in which case the patient may need the ECMO machine for days, weeks or months.

What are the risks of ECMO?

ECMO is an important lifesaving treatment that’s improved the survival rate for many severely ill patients who are not responding to usual life support options. ECMO, however, is not a cure and is not suited for everyone. Patients may experience the following complications:

  • Bleeding
  • Infections
  • Kidney failure
  • Leg damage
  • Stroke

How does Memorial care for patients on ECMO?

  • 24/7 Monitoring: We monitor patients receiving ECMO treatment 24 hours a day, 7 days a week in our cardiac intensive care unit (ICU). Because of the complicated nature of the procedure, ECMO requires a surgery to establish support. The surgical and critical care medicine teams monitor the patient the entire time to make sure they do not feel any pain.
  • Strong outcomes: In 2019, Memorial performed its 100th ECMO since the program was established in 2015. We have supported adults with minimal complications and survival rates that meet or exceed national averages.
  • One of the few in South Florida: Memorial is one of the only providers in South Florida offering mobile ECMO services, which provide safe hospital-to-hospital transfers under the care and supervision of a specially trained ECMO transport team.

Referrals for ECMO Treatment

If you are a physician who wants to refer or transfer a patient to Memorial Regional Hospital for ECMO treatment, please call 954-265-6338.

“I came down with a bad case of the H1N1 flu while on a cruise with my family. By the time I arrived at the ER at Memorial Regional Hospital, the virus had practically shut down my lungs. The nurses, the doctors, God bless them…I wouldn’t be here [without them].”
-- Pietro, ECMO patient