ECMO Information for Parents
What is ECMO?
Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) is a treatment for infants and children with heart or lung failure. ECMO uses a heart lung bypass machine, which is very similar to a machine that is used for open-heart surgery. When your child is placed on ECMO, his or her blood receives oxygen from an artificial lung in the ECMO circuit. The artificial lung will provide your child’s blood with the oxygen needed to live until his or her lungs and/or heart begins to work on their own.
How does ECMO work?
A surgeon places two catheters (cannulas) into the blood vessels in your child’s neck or if your child is having heart surgery, the catheters are placed directly in the child’s heart.
Blood from a vein flows into the ECMO circuit. It then passes through the artificial lung, where the blood gets oxygen. The pump then returns the blood back into your child. This blood will look bright red in color. The artificial lung also removes excess carbon dioxide from the blood.
During ECMO, your child will be cared for by a bedside nurse and an ECMO specialist. The specialist and nurse have advanced training to take care of your child. In addition to the nurse and ECMO specialist, your child also will be cared for by your child’s physician and additional medical specialists if necessary.
Care for your child while on ECMO
As a parent and/or family member, you play an important role in your child’s care and recovery. We encourage you to visit your child. You will not be able to hold your child during ECMO, but here are some examples of how you can participate in your child’s care:
- Tape record your voice singing or reading books. If you have special music that you would like played, please discuss this with the bedside nurse.
- It is important to touch your child when possible. Please ask the bedside staff when you can help with changing diapers or providing care for your child.
- If your child has brothers or sisters, have them draw pictures and bring them for your child's bedside.
- Bring in family pictures for the bedside.
- Child-Family Life specialists can assist siblings to understand and cope with the hospitalization.
While on ECMO, your child will need transfusions of blood. It will be necessary to draw blood samples for lab tests. Your child also will receive daily X-rays and frequent ultrasound exams while on ECMO.
Your child will receive medications for pain and will be sedated while on ECMO. The ECMO team will work with you to help you understand all of your child's medications and why they need them. Please ask anyone on the ECMO team for information about the medications your child is receiving.
Your child will not be able to eat while on ECMO, but he or she will receive nutrition through IV. If you are breastfeeding, we want you to continue to pump and will help you store your milk until your child is ready to eat.
Once it is time for your child to come off ECMO, the surgeon will remove the cannulas. Your child will be monitored very closely by your child’s physician and nursing team and adjustments may be made to medications and the ventilator.
The physicians from the intensive care unit, nurses, respiratory therapists, and specialty staff will continue to take care of your child through the rest of your child's hospitalization.