Northwestern Medicine Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) Program
Northwestern Medicine provides extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO), or extracorporeal life support, to patients with life-threatening illness or injuries that prevent their lungs or heart from working effectively. With the veno-venous ECMO (VV-ECMO), the machine removes blood from the body, oxygenates it and returns it to the body, acting as artificial lungs. This allows the patient’s lungs to rest and provides more time for medical treatments to address the underlying condition. VV-ECMO itself is not a direct treatment; it serves as a “bridge” on the way to medical improvement or a lung transplant.
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
At Northwestern Medicine, we have assembled an extraordinary team of specialists to care for patients and families during this time of acute illness.
Areas of Care
NM ECMO Publications
Kurihara C, Walter JM, Karim A, et al. Feasibility of venovenous extracorporeal membrane oxygenation without systemic anticoagulation. Ann Thorac Surg. 2020;110(4):1209–1215. doi:10.1016/j.athoracsur.2020.02.011
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
Papathanassoglou E, Park T. To put the patient in the best condition: integrating integrative therapies in critical care. Nurs Crit Care. 2016;21(3):123–126. doi:10.1111/nicc.12243
Patel AR, Patel AR, Singh S, Singh S, Munn NJ. Venovenous extracorporeal membrane oxygenation therapy in adults. Cureus. 2019;11(8):e5365. doi:10.7759/cureus.5365
Shaheen A, Tanaka D, Cavarocchi NC, Hirose H. Veno-venous extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (V V ECMO): indications, preprocedural considerations, and technique. J Card Surg. 2016;31(4):248–252. doi:10.1111/jocs.12690
Tramm R, Ilic D, Murphy K, Sheldrake J, Pellegrino V, Hodgson C. Experience and needs of family members of patients treated with extracorporeal membrane oxygenation. J Clin Nurs. 2017;26(11–12):1657–1668. doi:10.1111/jocn.13566
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