Overview

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

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

Mayo Clinic in Rochester, Minn., and Mayo Clinic in Phoenix/Scottsdale, Ariz., are ranked among the Best Hospitals for heart care and heart surgery and pulmonology by U.S. News & World Report. Mayo Clinic in Jacksonville, Fla., is ranked highly performing for 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.