The “father of ECMO”, Dr. Robert Bartlett, was recently interviewed regarding mechanical ventilation in patients with COVID-19. Understanding that some patients do not respond to mechanical ventilation, some hospitals began using a resource-intensive technology known as “Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation” (ECMO) as a treatment of last resort.
What is ECMO? It is a modified heart-lung machine that takes over the function of the lungs for days, weeks or even months, until the organs have recovered, or a transplant is performed. The beauty of ECMO is that it can be used as long as needed to allow the lungs to rest and recover from the harmful effects of the virus.
So when would ECMO be used? Well, it is really pretty straightforward, when a patient with respiratory failure doesn’t respond to mechanical ventilation, ECMO is used. All other conventional means of support should be tried first (proning, mechanical ventilation, oxygen), as the mortality rate in ICU patients is very high. It is important to remember that ECMO does not “treat COVID-19” but rather keeps the patient alive while the disease runs its course. To read the interview in its entirety please click here!