When your child needs extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) support due to an illness or medical condition, we understand that the treatment can be overwhelming for parents and family members. We encourage you to participate in Family-Centered Rounds, a daily meeting between you and your child’s care team. Bring your questions and your concerns, as well as any information you think can help us in caring for your child.
For newborns, the treatment might be recommended for persistent pulmonary hypertension, which affects the arteries that supply blood to the lungs; meconium aspiration, which occurs when fecal matter enters your baby’s lungs during childbirth; or respiratory distress syndrome, which makes it difficult for your baby to breathe on his or her own. ECMO support can also help babies born with congenital heart conditions and congenital diaphragmatic hernia, a condition that leaves an opening in the diaphragm, allowing stomach contents to enter the chest. Older children with several different illnesses, such as pneumonia, sepsis, and other serious heart and lung conditions, might also be treated with ECMO.
ECMO treatment begins with a surgical procedure. Your child receives anesthesia and is asleep the entire time. Using small, precise incisions, your child’s pediatric surgeon places small tubes into blood vessels in the neck, chest, or leg. These tubes transport oxygen-depleted blood to the ECMO machine where it is enriched with oxygen and then returned to the body.
While your child is receiving ECMO support, highly trained intensive care unit nurses and ECMO perfusionists remain at your child’s bedside around the clock. Your child receives medication to help him or her sleep, but we encourage you to talk and sing to your child and hold his or her hand, as your presence is comforting. While on ECMO support, your child receives nutrition through a vein or a small tube that goes from the mouth or nose to the stomach.
Your child might look different while received ECMO support, which is common. There might be swelling, called edema, or other physical changes. Generally, your child’s appearance returns to normal after ECMO support ends.
Treatment After ECMO
Your child may receive ECMO support for only a few hours or for up to a few weeks. Your child’s doctor monitors your child closely and removes the ECMO support as soon as it is safe to do so.
Transitioning from ECMO support is a step-by-step process. Your child’s care team gradually adjusts the systems that help with heartbeat and breathing until your child is able to resume these functions on his or her own. After ECMO, your child might remain on a ventilator to help with breathing as he or she regains strength. How long this process takes is specific to each child’s condition.
If you have any questions or concerns during your child’s care, please let your child’s care team know. Our goal is to provide the support you need during this challenging time.