South Florida Hospital News
Wednesday April 1, 2020
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February 2020 - Volume 16 - Issue 8

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ECMO: A Machine that Helps Save Lives

ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) is a technology that can support a compromised heart and lungs, keeping critically-ill patients alive when their own organs can't sustain them. A machine does this by pumping blood from the body to an artificial lung that adds oxygen and removes carbon dioxide. It then pumps the blood back to the patient with the same force as the heart to be circulated throughout the body.

While cardiac situations, such as transplant, cardiac arrest, and acute heart failure are among the most common uses for ECMO, it is now also being successfully used to provide life-saving care in high-risk pregnancies, trauma situations, in severe flu and pneumonia cases, and with auto-immune disorders. It’s also increasingly seen as a favorable alternative in situations where high pressure ventilators were traditionally used.  
 
ECMO on the Go
While Memorial Healthcare System is not alone in its ECMO capabilities in South Florida, what makes us unique, and an important resource to hospitals throughout the region, is our mobile ECMO. Our cardiac and vascular unit has two (one for adult and one for pediatric patients) specially-built, ambulance-like vehicles, each costing more than $350,000, that enables us to transport patients already on ECMO who may need a higher level of care or rescue those in emergency situations who have been brought to facilities without ECMO capabilities. For critically-ill patients who are too compromised for standard ambulance transport, a team that includes a cardiac surgeon and an ICU physician will travel to the referring hospital to further assess the patient. If appropriate, he or she will be placed on the ECMO machine to stabilize their condition prior to transport to Memorial
 
Regional Hospital’s CVICU, where the complexities of their care can be further managed. It’s a formalized protocol we believe allows Memorial to use its resources to assist those facilities and patients in the most complex, life and death situations.
 
Celebrating Success
We’ve now utilized ECMO on more than 130 patients since the technology was incorporated into treatment by Memorial in 2014 and it was a joyous atmosphere when we recently reunited survivors with the medical teams that saved their lives. The “Celebration of Life” event was emotional for all involved, with many ‘thank yous,’ tears, and shared memories. For physicians like myself, it was especially gratifying to see former patients healthy, on their feet, and back to life. For patients and families, it was an opportunity to give thanks to professionals who were at their best during a time the individual was, as far as their health was concerned, at their worst.
 
I consider myself fortunate to work among such professionals at a heart specialist hospital staffed by a collaborative group of cardiac physicians and surgeons. Our goal is to not only treat an extensive range of heart and vascular conditions, but to offer patients answers to whatever questions they may have, ranging from preventive heart health to high-tech, catheterization lab procedures to heart transplant.
 
For us, ECMO is often a part of those conversations as it provides safe and effective solutions to a variety of serious problems.

Dr. I-wen Wang is a cardiac surgeon and chief of adult heart transplant at Memorial Cardiac & Vascular Institute. For more information, visit www.mhs.net/services/cardiac-vascular

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