Extra Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation  

Some children have severe lung diseases that do not cooperate with conventional therapy.  In our experience, patients with diseases like this don't have a very high chance of living. There are some alternative therapies, however, that has been successful  for some children. 

ECMO Therapy:  The ECMO machine is a device that takes blood from a child, oxygenates it, and recirculates back into the body, thereby bypassing the lungs.  This allows the lungs to hopefully heal, without the added stress of oxygenating blood. The average time for children on ECMO is 5-6 days.

Potential Benefits of ECMO: Long-term use of the breathing machine at high settings can damage your child's lungs.  ECMO lets the lungs rest and, we hope, heal themselves with less chronic lung disease.

The lung disease and any related heart problems may be cured or improved with ECMO, allowing your child to recover and survive.


  • Your child's blood must be kept form clotting while it is going throughout the machine, so we give heparin, a drug that prevents clotting. Sometimes this can lead to internal bleeding, especially bleeding in the brain.  Bleeding in the brain can lead to brain damage. If bleeding of any kind occurs, the child's guardian will be given the option to continue.
  • The surgical procedures usually involve permanently tying off two major blood vessels the carotid artery and the internal jugular vein.  Tying off arteries has not caused blood circulation problems because other blood vessels take over the responsibility. But, if the vessels are damaged during the surgical procedure, ECMO will not be attempted.
  • When any catheter is inserted in the blood vessel, there is an increased risk of infection.  Antibiotics will be given as a precautionary measure.
  • Blood transfusions are also a factor.  As technology becomes increasingly advanced, the risk of an infection with a blood transfusion is minimal.
  • As with any machinery, the ECMO machine can malfunction just as any machine can. If this occurs, the child will be immediately removed and place on traditional therapy.
  • Small blood clots or air bubbles can get into the blood stream of the patient from the machine.  This can cause brain damage, organ damage, or be fatal.

As with any procedure we perform, your child's safety and well-being our #1 priority.  As always, feel free to contact us with any question that you have.  We would be happy to answer it for you.