Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) is a treatment that is used to help patients whose lungs do not function properly and require a lung transplant. These patients were not helped by other treatments, such as mechanical ventilation. ECMO can provide a “bridge to transplant,” meaning ECMO treatment can help patients who are very ill stay alive long enough to receive a lung or heart-and-lung transplant.
ECMO treatment involves inserting tubes, called cannulas, into blood vessels near the heart. Then, blood is pumped out of the body, through an artificial lung, and then back into the body. The artificial lung performs the function of normal lungs in the body; it removes carbon dioxide from the blood and adds oxygen. In the lungs, this exchange takes place on the surfaces of the alveoli, tiny air sacs in the lungs. In the artificial lung, the blood is oxygenated in a device called a membrane oxygenator, which exchanges gasses in a similar way to which they are exchanged in the lungs.
ECMO is most commonly used in infants and young children who suffer from heart or lung problems. However, at Temple, ECMO is used in adult patients who are waiting for a lung or heart-and-lung transplant and who do not respond to mechanical ventilation or other treatments.