Mayo Clinic recognized for expertise in life support

Mayo Clinic's ECMO program in Rochester, Minnesota, has received the highest award for excellence from the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization (ELSO).

Learn more about the ELSO award program. The Center of Excellence award is an indication of Mayo's exceptional care of people who need ECMO and its commitment to innovation and quality.

ECMO — The basics

ECMO is used in critical care situations when the lungs or heart need help.

Learn why it's done

The Mayo Clinic Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) program offers therapy to infants, children and adults who have life-threatening lung or heart conditions. ECMO, which is also called extracorporeal life support (ECLS), temporarily takes over for the heart, lungs, or both, while a person heals. ECMO might be an option for people who aren't finding relief from other life-support methods, such as medications or ventilators.

ECMO does not treat or cure a disease, but it can help when people are temporarily unable to provide their tissues with enough oxygen. The ECMO machine acts as an artificial heart and lung by removing blood from the body by way of tubes (cannulas) and pumping the blood through the artificial lung (oxygenator). The oxygenator takes carbon dioxide out of the blood and puts oxygen into the blood. The blood is then pumped back into the body.

Depending on your condition, ECMO can be used for a few days up to a few weeks.

A specially trained care team

While receiving ECMO life support, you are monitored by a multidisciplinary team at all times. All ECMO team members have received specialty training in caring for people with complex and serious conditions. The care team is made up of:

  • Critical care physicians
  • Specialty-trained nurses and respiratory therapists (ECMO specialists)
  • Perfusionists
  • Cardiac surgeons
  • Nurse practitioners or physician assistants
  • Registered nurses
  • Respiratory therapists
  • Pharmacists
  • Physical therapists

Other care providers are involved depending on your specific needs.

Advanced, coordinated treatment

Nursing excellence

Jessica McNallan, R.N., Pediatric ICU, Mayo Clinic: Nathan was a cancer patient and he was admitted to the hospital with a respiratory infection. His situation was uncommon in the fact that he'd had chemotherapy and his immune system was was very fragile.

Becky Herber, mother: He was taking six different chemotherapy drugs, so his bone marrow was completely shut off at that point. He had no chance whatsoever to fight off any infection or virus.

Jessica McNallan, R.N.: And then when he came to our side, to the ICU side, we're just really saw him decline. We were throwing every therapy at him, but he didn't improve. Therapy after therapy, intervention after intervention.

Becky Herber: They had done everything they possibly could to sustain his lungs and everything had failed and he was in respiratory constant respiratory failure. And that's when everybody moved in to help transfer him from the PICU and the ventilator to the ECMO unit to preserve his lungs.

Jessica McNallan, R.N.: We knew we had one chance to make this happen. But because I worked both oncology and ICU, I had the skill set. The people on either side of me had the skill set. In a heated moment like that when we make that decision, let's go. We can do it.

Becky Herber: She commanded the room and she knew his case so well. Her forward thinking made a vital difference for Nathan in that transition time.

Andy Herber, father: I've worked in medicine for 16 years. I have never seemed perfect nursing like that before and I am so thankful for it.

Jessica McNallan, R.N.: I was the right person, in the right place, at the right time. I'm glad I was there and able to help and to have the outcome that they had.

Becky Herber: Nathan looks like a normal, healthy six year old. He is physically able to do things any normal six year old would be able to do. I know there's a miracle in our midst and I can't not be in awe of it.

When on ECMO life support, you are monitored at all times, every day, by several different teams and machines. You are hooked up to monitors that measure heart rate and rhythm, blood pressure, oxygen levels, temperature, and many other values. The ECMO machine monitors blood flow and oxygen levels in the blood.

The machine is closely monitored by an ECMO specialist or perfusionist. Your blood will be drawn and monitored multiple times a day. And you may undergo daily X-rays to assess your condition and monitor the placement of tubes.

Our program

ECMO is available at Mayo Clinic hospitals in Phoenix, Arizona; Jacksonville, Florida; and Rochester, Minnesota. This service affects the care of people in many medical and surgical departments, including neonatal care, pediatric and adolescent medicine, critical care, cardiovascular surgery, Transplant Center, and pulmonary medicine.

The clinic has over 20 years' experience in delivering ECMO treatment to infants, children and adults. More than 1,000 people have received ECMO care at Mayo Clinic.

Mayo Clinic regularly offers symposiums and training in simulation laboratories to help critical care medical professionals worldwide learn the latest techniques and technology on using ECMO to help people.

Mayo Clinic in Arizona, Florida and Minnesota have been awarded the gold level award for excellence in life support by the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization.

Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minnesota, Mayo Clinic in Phoenix/Scottsdale, Arizona, and Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Florida, are ranked among the Best Hospitals for heart care and heart surgery and pulmonology by U.S. News & World Report.

Research and innovation

Mayo Clinic has been at the forefront of cardiovascular surgery since the specialty began. Mayo surgeons performed some of the world's first open-heart surgeries in children using a heart-lung machine developed at the clinic.

Mayo Clinic researchers and medical professionals continue that tradition of research and innovation by developing new ECMO solutions that improve people's lives. See a list of publications about ECMO by Mayo Clinic doctors on PubMed, a service of the National Library of Medicine.

Feb. 16, 2022

Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) Program