Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO)

To speak with an advanced lung disease specialist, call 410-328-4351

ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) is a device that takes over the function of your lungs. It uses a machine to remove carbon dioxide from your blood and circulate oxygen throughout your body when your lungs cannot function on their own.

ECMO may often be referred to as ECLS (extracorporeal life support) or heart/lung bypass. We may use ECMO to allow your body to recover so you can undergo a lung transplant procedure.

ECMO at the University of Maryland

We are leaders in the field of ECMO. Features of our care include:

  • High volume: While a typical medical center may do approximately 30 ECMO cases a year, we did more than 100 in 2014, giving us a unique depth of expertise and experience. We are also one of the few centers using ECMO as a bridge to transplant. 
  • High-risk patients: The high volume of patients we treat also allows us to use this technique successfully on high-risk patients. Patients who may have been turned down for treatment at other centers can find hope at the University of Maryland. 
  • Specialized care: We administer ECMO in our unique Lung Rescue Unit, where patients with acute lung disease receive intensive care from a group of dedicated lung experts. Learn more about our Lung Rescue Unit.

We use ECMO for:

  • Children and adults with acute, or sudden, lung and/or heart failure
  • Bridge to therapy for heart patients who need a ventricular assist device (VAD) or transplant. Learn more about our VAD program.
  • In some cases, certain patients do not respond to traditional treatments, like mechanical ventilation, oxygen therapy or medications. However, doctors believe their condition is reversible. In these cases, experts from many different areas of lung care come together to discuss using ECMO as an opportunity to allow the organs time to heal.

We administer ECMO in one of two ways. In both cases, your blood is oxygenated as it is circulated through a machine outside of your body.

  • Veno-arterial (V-A): Oxygenated blood returns from outside of your body into your arteries. V-A ECMO can be used in conjunction with cardiopulmonary bypass to support the heart.
  • Veno-venous (V-V): Oxygenated blood returns from outside of your body into your veins. We use this for patients who have lung failure only as it does not provide cardiac support.

Patients on ECMO receive care from a coordinated group of expert physicians, including:

  • Cardiothoracic surgeons
  • Anesthesiologists
  • Pulmonologists
  • Skilled cardiothoracic nurses
  • Critical care doctors
  • Cardiologists 
  • Perfusionists (experts in heart-lung bypass) 
  • Pediatric heart surgeons (if needed)