Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO)

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Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO)

Life-Saving Technology for Struggling Hearts & Lungs

Baby being treated with Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) at Nemours.

When a child’s lungs or heart aren’t working, Nemours can use a technology that gives these organs a chance to rest and heal. Called “extracorporeal membrane oxygenation” (“ECMO,” for short), it’s a machine that temporarily takes over for the heart, lungs or both by pumping blood and delivering oxygen throughout the body.

“Extracorporeal” means treatment that takes place outside the body. “Membrane” means a type of artificial lung. “Oxygenation” means supplying oxygen to the blood. At Nemours, our ECMO teams combine a mastery of this technology with support services to help families navigate a challenging time.

Learn More About ECMO

Conditions We Treat With ECMO

ECMO (also known as extracorporeal life support or “ECLS”) treats serious problems of the heart and/or lungs. The most common conditions that may require treatment with an ECMO machine include: 

  • acute respiratory distress syndrome (a serious lung condition caused by the buildup of fluid in the lungs)
  • cardiac arrest (a sudden failure of the heart to contract)
  • cardiomyopathy (heart muscle problems)
  • congenital diaphragmatic hernia (when part of the stomach bulges through the diaphragm, an important breathing muscle)
  • congenital heart disease (when a baby’s born with any kind of heart defect)
  • hypoplastic left heart syndrome (when the left side of a baby’s heart is smaller than it should be)
  • low cardiac output syndrome (limits the heart’s ability to move oxygen around the body)
  • meconium aspiration syndrome (breathing problems caused when a newborn breaths in meconium, their first feces, while still in the womb)
  • myocarditis (infection of the heart muscle)
  • neonatal sepsis (a bloodstream infection in a newborn)
  • persistent pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the arteries that feed the lungs)
  • pneumonia (infection of the lungs)
  • severe asthma in infants
  • tetralogy of Fallot (when a baby’s born with a combination of four heart defects)
  • transposition of the great arteries (when the two main arteries leaving the heart are in the wrong position)

Our ECMO Care

Depending on a child’s needs, we may use one of two ECMO treatments:

  • Venoarterial (VA) ECMO. This is when both the heart and lungs need to rest. This type of ECMO pumps blood and breathes for a child.
  • Venovenous (VV) ECMO. This is when the heart is working but the lungs need time to rest. This type of ECMO doesn’t pump blood.

Our ECMO care team members may include:

  • attending physician/surgeon — the doctor in charge of your child’s care
  • ECMO coordinator — the manager of the ECMO department who acts as an extra resource for the care team
  • ECMO physician — a doctor who specializes in ECMO treatment
  • ECMO specialist — a nurse, respiratory therapist or perfusionist who’s specially trained to monitor the machine
  • perfusionist — a specialist with advanced training in heart-lung machines and ECMO
  • respiratory therapist — a specialist in ventilators (breathing machines) and lung care
  • nurse — a pediatric nurse who cares for your child in the hospital
  • nurse practitioner — a nurse with advanced training and education who provides care under the guidance of the attending physician/surgeon
  • social worker — a professional who helps families cope

Why Choose Us for ECMO

Our care is about more than an ECMO machine. It’s a team of nurses, doctors, respiratory therapists and more with experience using this proven, life-saving technology and supporting your family along the way.

Regional ECMO Highlights

Services, programs and care teams differ at each location. Call for details.

We offer full-service ECMO care at Nemours Children’s Hospital, Delaware (Wilmington, Del.).

  • the state’s only neonatal (newborn) ECMO center
  • the only children’s hospital in the region to offer ECMO transport — a mobile version of ECMO, which allows us to extend our reach to children hundreds of miles away
  • Gold Level Award for Excellence in Life Support from the international Extracorporeal Life Support Organization (ELSO)
  • only the second children’s hospital in the country designated an Accredited Heart Failure Institute
  • doctors and nurses visiting from as far away as Brazil and Korea to train on our simulators and bring ECMO to their own hospitals

We offer ECMO care at Nemours Children’s Hospital (Orlando).

  • full-service care for children with rare and complex heart conditions
  • large care team that visits with you each morning to discuss the care plan for that day
  • kid-friendly imaging when the ECMO team need to a picture of a child’s heart or lungs

Research & Clinical Trials

At Nemours, we’re actively researching new approaches for childhood disease prevention, diagnosis and treatment.

KidsHealth Library

Learn more about your child’s medical condition from the experts at Nemours’ KidsHealth.