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ECMO HOTLINE: 844-436-ECMO (3266)
What is ECMO?
ECMO or extracorporeal membrane oxygenation is a technique of providing both cardiac and respiratory support oxygen to patients whose heart and lungs are so severely diseased or damaged that they can no longer serve their function.
INTEGRIS Advanced Cardiac Care is the first in the state to establish a specialized life support program solely devoted to adult patients facing imminent death caused by heart or respiratory failure. The program uses extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, commonly abbreviated as ECMO, as a last resort lifesaving technique.
Twenty-one year old Shaquile “Kela” Robinson of Oklahoma City is the first to benefit from the newly developed program. She says she wouldn’t be here today if it weren’t for a therapy she had never even heard of before she got sick. “I had no idea what ECMO was,” admits Robinson. “But I know it saved my life.”
Robinson experienced post-pregnancy heart complications following the birth of her son, Thomas, in June of last year. Shortly after delivery, she started having chest pains, found it difficult to breathe and became easily fatigued. She was unable to even hold her newborn child.
Doctors discovered that her heart was only working at 10-percent capacity and implanted a defibrillator to try to help. But her condition continued to deteriorate until eventually she developed pneumonia and began coughing up blood. Both organs were shutting down and doctors knew if they didn’t act fast, Robinson would soon have to say “good-bye” to her now 1-year-old son.
Aly El Banayosy, M.D., and Michael M. Koerner, M.D., Ph.D., both transplant and acute circulatory support critical care physicians who recently came to INTEGRIS from Penn State Milton S. Hershey Medical Center with the intent to create an adult ECMO program here, visited with Robinson’s family about the therapy.
“We told them they could not afford to miss this window of opportunity. If we did not try the ECMO therapy, death was the only alternative,” says Banayosy. “Given those odds,” says Robinson’s mother, Kerri Harkey, “we chose life.”
Meet Our ECMO Physicians
When can a Patient Benefit from ECMO?
- Cardiogenic shock
- Pulmonary embolism
- Septic shock
- Drug intoxication
- High risk cardiac procedures
Adult respiratory distress syndrome due to:
- Chest trauma
- Inhalation injury
- Bridge to lung transplant
ECMO provides both cardiac and respiratory support oxygen to patients whose heart and/or lungs are so severely diseased or damaged that they can no longer serve their function, perhaps after a heart attack, cardio surgery, pulmonary embolism, near drowning, or lung-related issues such as flu or pneumonia.
The therapy continually pumps blood from the patient via a tube inserted into the groin vessels or neck vein. The blood goes through a membrane oxygenator that imitates the gas exchange process of the lung, removing carbon dioxide and adding oxygen, before returning the blood to the patient.
The goal is to allow the heart or lungs to rest and recover while the machine does all the work. When the heart or the lungs have healed and can work on their own, the lifesaving support from the ECMO artificial heart/lung machine is gradually removed.
The ECMO technology itself is not new. It is traditionally used to support underdeveloped hearts and lungs in premature babies. However, medical adaptations and advancements have led to increased adult usage and Banayosy believes the therapy will ultimately change the way hospitals care for patients near death from catastrophic heart and lung events.
Where can ECMO be done?
This lifesaving support provided to the sickest of the sick in cardiogenic shock, severe respiratory failure or a combination of both can be initiated via rapid peripheral cannulation VA-ECMO (veno-arterial) or VV-ECMO (veno-venous) at your patient’s bedside.
“The old ECMO technology didn’t allow us to run ECMO long enough to give a patient time to recover. It would be used for two days previously; now we can use it up to six weeks for advanced management and follow-up, which in many cases is enough time for the heart and lungs to recover or to prepare for any necessary surgery,” he said.
Robinson was on the device for seven days, until her heart and lungs were strong enough to tolerate the medications needed to stabilize her condition. She remains hospitalized but is breathing better and is feeling “almost normal.” The best part is she still gets to see her son every day.
Robinson is scheduled to receive a left ventricular assist device, or heart pump, and she may eventually need a heart transplant. But one thing’s for certain, ECMO extended her life and gave her a fighting chance for tomorrow.