About ECMO: Information for Patients
When human lungs are functioning normally, they add oxygen to the blood and remove carbon dioxide from it. But when they are failing, an external process called extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) can perform this vital function for them. The patient's blood is removed from the body, directed through the ECMO machine, and routed back in, through a system of tubes. In this manner the ECMO machine essentially serves as a set of out-of-body lungs, bypassing the lungs and continually oxygenating the blood. Because this advanced technique allows the patient's lungs to rest, it avoids causing damage and complications associated with other techniques, such as mechanical ventilation.
ECMO may be helpful in the recovery of adults with advanced lung failure due to a range of causes. Since the establishment of the Medical ECMO program, many patients have recovered using this therapy who likely would not have survived otherwise.