Fetal Treatment Program of New England

Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation

Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) is a similar to a lung-heart bypass machine, allowing gas exchange while the baby's lungs are resting. In ECMO, blood is removed from the patient and pumped through an artificial lung called a membrane oxygenator, where oxygen and carbon dioxide are exchanged. The blood is then pumped through a warmer and returned to the patient. ECMO is only used in cases where heart or lung function, or both, are severely affected-for example, severe forms of congenital diaphragmatic hernia.

How is it performed?

ECMO support is established by a specialized, pediatric surgical team in the intensive care unit. While your baby is sedated, catheters will be inserted into the veins and arteries in the neck area, which are then connected to the mechanical pump.

What happens afterward?

ECMO allows your baby's heart and lungs to rest until they can function well independently. ECMO can only be used for a few weeks-after that, there are significant risks such as long-term damage to the lung, brain and other organs.