ELSO Center of Excellence LogoExtracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) is a temporary heart and lung machine for children whose hearts and lungs are very sick or need support to recover. The St. Louis Children’s and Washington University Heart Center has been named a center of excellence for ECMO by the Extracorporeal Life Support Organization. Not only do we have a dedicated care team for children on ECMO, but we are also the only hospital in the region to offer ECMO transport service.

What Is ECMO Support?

ECMO is a way of circulating blood and oxygen throughout the body, without making a child’s heart or lungs work to do it. The ECMO machine has a pump (artificial heart), a membrane (artificial lung), and a blood warmer. The machine takes your child’s blood and pumps it through the membrane where it gets oxygen. The machine then warms the blood and returns it to your child’s body.

How Is ECMO Support Established?

We establish ECMO with a short operation at your child’s bedside. The surgeon places cannula, which are like large IV (intravenous) tubes, into your child’s blood vessels. Our cardiac support team closely monitors your child the whole time. We will make sure that your child is comfortable and does not feel any pain. Your child may be on ECMO support for a few days or a few weeks, depending on how the heart and lungs are recovering and what the next step is.

Offering Your Child the Best Care on ECMO Support

Everything we do at The Heart Center revolves around the family, and that includes ECMO. ECMO can feel overwhelming for parents, but know that your child is in the best, most expert hands. We want parents to know that:

  • Ours is one of oldest ECMO programs in the country, since 1984. This depth of experience over several decades translates into fewer risks for your child.
  • We support 50 children a year on ECMO and have one of the greatest track records in the world in terms of outcomes.
  • We provide your child round-the-clock monitoring. We have specialist nurses managing the ECMO machine, as well as a dedicated nurse for your child and several specialists for managing any potential complications. Our team visits each patient together daily, which means we stay on top of all details related to your child.
  • We are one of only a few centers in the country (and the only one regionally) with the expertise to transport children on ECMO. We have a dedicated transport team, as well as helicopters and six-wing aircraft outfitted for this purpose.
  • Your involvement is crucial, and we will always take time to explain what is happening with your child and include you in conversations. You are never restricted from being at your child’s bedside because we know your presence is as powerful a healing tool as any we have.
  • Our goal is to minimize the length of time your child is on ECMO support. The time limit reduces risks and helps us restore your child’s quality of life as soon as possible. We offer many follow-up services through our Cardiac Neurodevelopmental Clinic.

Meet the Experts

While on ECMO, your child will receive care from cardiologists and cardiac intensivists, perfusion technologists, cardiac anesthesiologists and advanced practice nurses. Meet the team at The Heart Center.