Cardiology and Cardiac Surgery

ECMO | Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation

Occasionally, a patient may have a sudden deterioration in heart or lung function. The heart becomes too weak to pump enough blood to the vital organs, or the lungs become too compromised to oxygenate the blood. These patients may not survive without additional advanced support for the circulatory system. NewYork-Presbyterian Brooklyn Methodist Hospital is one of the few hospitals in Brooklyn that performs extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), a way to artificially supply oxygen-rich blood to the body when the heart and lungs are incapable of doing so. When a patient is on ECMO, the heart and lungs are kept in a resting state and allowed to heal.

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An illustration of how ECMO works.
Click image to enlarge.

ECMO for Respiratory Failure

  • If a patient has life-threatening acute respiratory failure with profound gas exchange abnormalities, ECMO may be used as a lifesaving treatment.
  • ECMO may also be beneficial for patients with acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS) who would benefit from lung-protective ventilation strategies but who are unable to tolerate such strategies.
  • ECMO can help select patients with severe hypercarbic respiratory failure (levels of carbon dioxide in the blood that are too high).
  • ECMO may be used in patients with chronic lung disease who are waiting for a lung transplant. This approach is called "bridge-to-transplantation."
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ECMO with single site cannulation.
Click image to enlarge.

The ECMO System

The ECMO circuit consists of:

  • Pump. This motor-like device powers the circuit by pulling blood from the venous side and pushing it into the patient's arterial circulation.
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  • Tubing. Clear tubing connects the pump to the patient. One tube carries the dark venous blood from the veins to the pump. A second tube carries the bright red oxygenated blood back to the body.
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  • Oxygenator. This device saturates the blood with oxygen molecules, which are needed for the patient's body to function properly.
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  • Electronic control system. This allows us to monitor and adjust the speed of the pump and the amount of blood flowing through it.
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ECMO with two site cannulation.
Click image to enlarge.

Physicians interested in transferring a patient to NYP Brooklyn Methodist for ECMO can call 718-499-CARE (718-499-2273).