Extracorporeal Life Support (ECMO)

Occasionally, a patient may have a sudden deterioration in heart or lung function to a point where they cannot sustain the rest of the body. The heart becomes too weak to pump enough blood to the vital organs or the lungs become too compromised to oxygenate the blood. This can be caused by many things, including a massive heart attack, an infection of the heart muscle (cardiomyopathy caused by a virus or bacteria), inflammatory disorders, or drug or medication-induced. These patients may not survive without additional advanced support for their circulatory system.

Weill Cornell Medicine Cardiothoracic Surgeons offer state-of-the-art options and exceptional care to help support these patients through their recovery. Our surgeons may offer extracorporeal life support (ECLS), also known as extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), to support the heart, lungs and the rest of the body while the heart and lungs recover from their initial problem. These devices help take the oxygen-poor blood form the venous system of the body, infuses the blood with oxygen, and pumps the oxygenated blood to the body and vital organs. The heart and lungs are kept in a resting state and allowed to heal.

The ECMO circuit consists of:

  • Pump: This is the motor-like device that powers the circuit by pulling blood from the venous side and pushing it into the patient’s arterial circulation.
  • Tubing: Clear tubing connects the pump to the body. One tube carries the dark venous blood from the veins to the pump. A second tube carries the bright red oxygenated blood back to the body.
  • Oxygenator: This device saturates the blood with oxygen molecules, which are needed for the body to function properly.
  • Electronic control system: This allows us to monitor and adjust the speed of the pump and the amount of blood flowing through it.