Extra Corporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) is most commonly used to treat a variety of conditions affecting the respiratory system. It can also be offered as a means of support either before or after heart surgery when the heart is too weak to work properly.
The ECMO machine is made up of several parts: a pump, an artificial lung, a blood warmer and plastic tubing that connects each part. The ECMO machine takes the blue blood (without oxygen) out of the right side of the heart and pumps it through the artificial lung (oxygenator). The oxygenator allows oxygen to enter the blood whilst removing the waste gas of respiration (carbon dioxide or CO2). The oxygenator also warms the blood ready to be returned to the patient. After leaving the oxygenator the red oxygenated blood is pumped back into the body.
To perform ECMO, a surgeon needs to place special tubes called cannulae into the patient to permit the removal and subsequent return of the blood. Exactly where and how these tubes are placed depends on the weight of the patient and the mode of ECMO (VV or VA) being performed. The ECMO team will be monitoring the patient very closely to make sure they are stable and comfortable during the procedure.