The Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) program at Children’s of Alabama uses a heart-lung bypass machine to help critically ill or injured patients provide oxygen to the blood while allowing the heart and lungs to heal or rest. Extracorporeal support is used only after all other medical treatment has failed and the odds of survival without it would be less than 20 percent.
Children’s ECMO Center is equipped with a fleet of eight machines that were completely upgraded in 2021. Since the start of the program, over 970 infants and children have been supported with ECMO at Children’s, with an average of 50 cases per year.
Specialty rooms for ECMO treatment were incorporated into the design of Children’s Benjamin Russell Hospital Building, a 12-story expansion that opened to patients in August 2012. Located in the NICU, PICU and CVICU, the rooms offer specialized equipment, flexibility, privacy, and the opportunity for families to stay at the bedside.
Length of time on ECMO depends on diagnosis. It can range from 1-2 days up to 2 months.
Patients requiring ECMO range from newborns to 18 years of age and are cared for in the Neonatal, Pediatric, and Cardiac ICUs. Newborns who have difficulty shortly after birth due to infection, meconium aspiration, congenital diaphragmatic hernia, or pulmonary hypertension are candidates for ECMO. Children with cardiac (heart) conditions may require short term ECMO support before or after surgery to allow the heart time to rest. Older infants and children suffering from life threatening respiratory failure or severe infections may also require ECMO support.
When the program began in 1987, Children’s was one of the first pediatric hospitals in the southeast to offer ECMO and currently remains the only pediatric ECMO center in the state.
The ECMO pumps are managed by a highly trained team of ECLS primers and specialists including registered nurses, respiratory therapists, and perfusionists. The team also includes pediatric and cardiac surgeons, pediatric intensivists, and critical care nurse practitioners. The staff averages more than eleven years of ECMO experience.
Children’s ECMO program has earned the “Award for Excellence in Life Support” and has been designated a Center of Excellence by the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization (ELSO) since 2013. A designated Center of Excellence achieves an extraordinary level of patient care by using the highest quality care measures, processes, training, education, collaboration, and communication. The ELSO Award signifies a commitment to exceptional patient care and an assurance of high standards among caregivers, use of specialized equipment and supplies, defined patient protocols, and advanced education of all staff. Children’s ECMO Center is particularly noted for its comprehensive education program for staff.
A Prenatal Tour can be arranged for parents with prenatal diagnosis that may require ECMO Support after discussion with your OB / Pediatric Surgeon or Cardiac team.