ECMO (Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation) is a procedure that uses a machine to take over the work of the lungs and sometimes the heart. ECMO is used for babies, children and adults. It is a special way for a machine to help your child, while they are very sick. ECMO provides time for your child’s body to rest and recover. You might hear your doctors, ECMO specialists, or nurses refer to this process as ECLS (Extracorporeal LifeSupport) or bypass, which is saying the same thing, just in a different way.

Let’s take a moment to better understand each word in ECMO:

  • Extracorporeal means that the blood circulates outside of the body with the help of a machine.
  • Membrane Oxygenation, referred to as the “artificial lungs,” is a special part of the machine that puts oxygen into the blood and takes out carbon dioxide just like our lungs do.

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What Is the Goal of ECMO?

The goal of ECMO is to insure that your child’s body has enough oxygen by taking over the workload of reversible heart and/or lung disorders. ECMO will not heal your child’s heart or the lungs, but it will allow time for them to rest and recover. Your child can be on ECMO for several days to a few weeks. When the heart or the lungs have healed and can work on their own, the support from ECMO is gradually removed. Children with severe but reversible heart or lung disorders that have not responded to the usual treatments of mechanical ventilation, medications and oxygen therapy are candidates for ECMO.