Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) is a treatment that uses a pump to circulate blood out of the body, through a machine, and back into the bloodstream.

ECMO does not heal diseases that cause cardiac or respiratory failure. Instead, it supports the circulation and ventilation of blood throughout your body so that your body can heal itself.

How ECMO Works

The goal of ECMO treatment is to ensure your body has enough oxygen. Using a circuit of highly specialized equipment, ECMO does the work of your lungs and heart.

First, we place a large catheter into your blood vessel and connect the catheter to the ECMO machine. Next, your body pumps the blood out of your body and into the ECMO machine. The machine adds oxygen to the blood and removes carbon dioxide. Finally, blood flows back into your body with enough pressure to circulate throughout the body.

We repeat this circuit around the clock until the body has time to heal itself, or treatment is no longer needed.

Patients receiving ECMO treatment have an ECMO specialist at their bedside at all times, performing minute-to-minute monitoring.

As your heart and lungs start to heal, we will reduce the amount of ECMO support you receive. When you show signs of getting better, we will temporarily discontinue ECMO. When your heart and lungs heal enough to support your needs, we permanently discontinue ECMO. You may remain on a ventilator for extra support several days or weeks after treatment.

ECMO Expertise at Wake Forest Baptist

As one of only a few hospitals in North Carolina offering ECMO, Wake Forest Baptist is a distinguished leader in critical care for advanced cardiac conditions. Our team of highly skilled respiratory specialists delivers comprehensive ECMO programs for newborns, children and adults in cardiac or respiratory failure.

Using advanced life support technology, our skilled team of ECMO experts delivers treatments that allow the heart and lungs to rest so that they can heal.

Our ECMO Team

ECMO treatment is supported by a large team of highly trained specialists including:

Our specially trained respiratory therapists are licensed and registered with years of experience in intensive care. Our nursing staff and physician assistants, many of whom have more than 3 decades of experience, work alongside intensive care physicians to provide round-the-clock care.

What is ECMO?

Dr. Neal Kon, Chair of Cardiothoracic Surgery, explains what ECMO is and how we use it here at Wake Forest Baptist Health.