Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO)

Some life-threatening illnesses can weaken your lungs or heart to the point they are unable to supply adequate amounts of oxygen to sustain your body.

Miami Valley Hospital offers an advanced life support treatment, extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), that performs the life-sustaining work of your heart or lungs when they’re unable to. Using a modified heart and lung machine, ECMO oxygenates and circulates blood through your body, bypassing your heart and lungs to allow them time to rest, while your health care team treats and cures your illness.

Understanding ECMO Treatment

In Miami Valley Hospital’s cardiac intensive care unit, ECMO patients are cared for by multiple health care teams.

A critical care team manages the patient’s care on the ECMO machine, which includes:

  • Connecting the patient to the ECMO machine, while under sedation, via plastic tubes (cannula) placed in veins and arteries in the neck, legs, or chest. Most ECMO patients are already on a breathing machine, or ventilator, when beginning ECMO treatment.
  • Monitoring the patient to check how well the treatment is helping and if changes are needed. The team monitors the patient’s heart rate, blood pressure, and oxygen and carbon dioxide levels, and administers blood-thinning medications to prevent blood clots.
  • Watching for and treating side effects of ECMO, such as infections and bleeding 

Medical specialists — such as cardiologists and pulmonologists — treat ECMO patients to cure the underlying diseases that damaged and limited the function of the heart and/or lungs. Others are involved as needed, such as kidney specialists. ECMO patients often experience reduced blood flow to the kidneys and may need dialysis if the kidneys stop working.

A few of the more common conditions that lead to ECMO care include:

Bringing ECMO treatment to Miami Valley Hospital enables patients and their families to stay closer to home, preventing the need to be transferred to a health care facility out of the Dayton region.

Length of ECMO treatment varies depending on each patient’s progress, from a few hours, to days, to a few weeks. Some patients do not improve enough to be taken off the ECMO machine, but the treatment improves the chance of survival for many critically ill patients who do not respond to other life support treatments.

Factors considered in deciding whether a patient is a good candidate for ECMO treatment include a combination of age, health history, and probability of survival and recovery once the primary underlying illness is successfully treated.

As patients are typically too ill to be involved in considering ECMO as a treatment, your physician will likely discuss the option with your family or designated health care agent.

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You will find new safety measures in place when you schedule appointments and come to our facilities — all with the goal of keeping you safe as we care for you.

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Every moment of your life depends on a strong, healthy heart. The Premier Health cardiology and vascular services team is here to help you, each beat of the way, with prevention, diagnostic, treatment, and rehabilitation services in our hospitals, outpatient centers, and medical offices across Southwest Ohio.