VV-ECMO is used to give the lungs an opportunity to heal or, in some cases, as a support while waiting for lung transplantation.
When a patient’s lungs heal enough to support themselves, VV-ECMO is stopped and the tubes are removed by a surgeon. Once VV-ECMO support is stopped and removed, it is unlikely that the patient will need to go back on VV-ECMO, although it does happen sometimes. The lungs continue their healing process after VV-ECMO support is removed, which can take weeks to months.
If a patient qualifies for a lung transplant, VV-ECMO is continued until the donor lungs become available, the transplantation occurs, and the patient can breathe without VV-ECMO assistance.
Some patients might not show signs of lung recovery and will not be candidates for lung transplant, even with the help of VV-ECMO. In this case, the care team will talk to the designated decision maker for the patient and plan for VV-ECMO support to be withdrawn, which is called terminal decannulation. When this decision is made, the care team places special emphasis on providing comfort and preserving dignity.