Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO)

The ECMO program at the Heart Institute at Children's Hospital has provided ECMO to patients suffering from complex cardiac and respiratory problems since 1979.

What Is ECMO?

ECMO is short for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation and is a form of life support used in situations where conventional methods used to treat respiratory failure or cardiac failure become harmful. ECMO provides oxygen to the body when the heart and/or lungs are not strong enough. By doing the work of the heart and lungs, ECMO allows time for the body to rest and recover.

Patients suffering from the following may require ECMO:

  • Cardiac Failure
  • Cardiac Arrest
  • Congenital Diaphragmatic Hernia
  • Congenital Heart Disease
  • Pulmonary Hypertension
  • Respiratory Failure
  • Sepsis

UPMC Children’s uses a careful, multidisciplinary approach to ECMO patient selection to ensure our patients the best chance of successful outcome.

ECMO Referrals and ECMO Transport

Referrals to the UPMC Children’s ECMO Program extend beyond Western Pennsylvania and have been accepted from national and international centers.

We accept ECMO referrals 24/7. Physicians wishing to refer a child for ECMO or ECMO transport, can reach our ECMO Program at:

  • ECMO Support: 412-692-5540.
  • ECMO Transport: doctors can call our ECMO transport team at 1-877-733-7478.

UPMC Children’s began offering ECMO transport in 2008. We use the following to transport patients:

  • Helicopter
  • Ambulance
  • Fixed-wing plane

The transport team consists of a critical care fellow physician, two critical care flight nurses, a perfusionist/ECMO specialist, and a respiratory therapist.

Upon arrival at UPMC Children’s, our ECMO team provides constant bedside management. Perfusionists, critical care nurses and respiratory therapists complete a comprehensive training program in pediatric ECMO prior to caring for our ECMO patients.

ECMO Program Fast Facts

  • In 1979, UPMC Children’s became the 2nd center to offer ECMO to patients.
  • We are an Extracorporeal Life Support Organization (ELSO) Platinum Center of Excellence – the highest designation for Excellence in Life Support by ELSO.
  • ECMO is offered in all three of our critical care units (CICU, NICU, PICU).
  • We care for approximately 55 ECMO patients each year.
  • We have the space and equipment to support up to six ECMO cases at any given time, with provisions to increase this number as needed.

Medical direction of ECMO services is a collaborative effort among pediatric: