How do you know the patient is getting better with ECMO?

Recovery with extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (EMCO)

When your loved one is put on ECMO support, the ECMO pump will do the work of the lungs, and in some cases the heart as well. When the ECMO specialist sees your loved one improving, they may decrease some support or turn down the pump flow. This procedure shows whether the patient’s heart and lungs can do more of the work themselves.

Trialing off EMCO

The ECMO team can decrease support even more or take away ECMO for minutes or hours to see if the patient needs to stay on ECMO.

You will hear the ECMO team talk about a “trial off.” The nursing staff will draw frequent labs to see how your loved one is doing. If everything looks good, the ECMO team will talk about removing ECMO.

If the test shows us the patient needs more time on ECMO, we can put them back on ECMO support. The medical team taking care of your loved one will walk you through what they are looking for each day.

Ending EMCO

If all signs point to your loved on being ready to come off ECMO, the surgeon will remove the cannulae. If the cannulae were placed through the skin, without a large incision, they will be taken out like an IV with firm pressure held for about 20 minutes. If the cannulae were surgically placed (through an open incision), they will be surgically removed and the vessel closed with stitches.

The breathing tube and ventilator may still be needed, but will be decreased as your family member improves over time. A physical therapy and rehabilitation specialist will work with your loved one to regain strength. It is a slow process, but every day we look for improvement.

Last reviewed: 
June 2017

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