Measles Information

An extracorporeal membrane osygenation ECMO machine.

Most patients who need VV-ECMO require the ongoing assistance of a ventilator. To prepare the body for VV-ECMO, a surgeon places plastic tubes called cannulae into two large veins for blood exchange. Patients are given pain medications to keep them comfortable during this procedure. Once the tubes are in place, they are not painful. When the VV-ECMO machine is running, the non-oxygenated blood being removed from the body is dark red in color. After the blood is oxygenated by the machine, its color during its return to the body is bright red.

After VV-ECMO begins, most patients remain sedated. However, with time, some patients may no longer require sedation to be comfortable, at which point they may wake up and be able to interact with people. In some cases, patients may be able to participate in exercises to build their strength while on the VV-ECMO machine.

Meet the Team

A physician looks at a pulmonary scan of the lungs.

At Northwestern Medicine, we have assembled an extraordinary team of specialists to care for patients and families during this time of acute illness.

Meet the Northwestern Medicine VV-ECMO Care Team

Areas of Care

History of ECMO

ECMO technology was developed in the 1960s to serve as a long-term "bypass machine" to support the lungs or heart.

Veno-Venous Versus Veno-Arterial ECMO

There are two main types of ECMO support.

When VV-ECMO Is Needed

The main reason to use VV-ECMO therapy is severe lung failure that cannot be treated by medications and a breathing machine.


VV-ECMO is used to give the lungs an opportunity to heal or, in some cases, as a support while waiting for lung transplantation.

Potential Complications

Potential complications related to VV-ECMO can arise.

Role of the Family

If you have a loved one on VV-ECMO, you have an important role in their care, and we want you to be able to spend time with them.


Approximately 5% of patients with COVID-19 develop critical lung disease that requires a breathing tube and ventilatory support.


Review the glossary of terms related to ECMO.

Locations & Contact Information
    23-2202i USNWR National Specialty Cards_NHM_National Pulm

    Northwestern Memorial Hospital
    Nationally recognized in Pulmonology & Lung Surgery (No. 18)

    Lung Transplant Program

    The Northwestern Medicine Lung Transplant Program is dedicated to providing innovative services and a world-class patient experience through comprehensive transplant care. We offer a team approach to care for patients with advanced lung disease.

    Northwestern Medicine Launches Lung Failure Training Program for Community

    When medication and breathing machines aren’t enough, ECMO can serve as a “bridge” to medical improvement or a lung transplant.


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    Kurihara C, Walter JM, Singer BD, et al. Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation can successfully support patients with severe acute respiratory distress syndrome in lieu of mechanical ventilation. Crit Care Med. 2018;46(11):e1070–e1073. doi:10.1097/CCM.0000000000003354

    Mehta T, Sallehuddin A, John J. The journey of pediatric ECMO. Qatar Med J. 2017(1);4. doi:10.5339/qmj.2017.swacelso.4

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    Verity R, Okell LC, Dorigatti I, et al. Estimates of the severity of coronavirus disease 2019: a model-based analysis. Lancet Infect Dis. 2020;20(6):669–677. doi:10.1016/S1473-3099(20)30243-7

    White A, Fan E. What is ECMO? Am J Respir Crit Care Med. 2016;193(6):P9–P10. doi:10.1164/rccm.1936P9