Image of pediatric ECMO unit

Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) is a treatment that delivers oxygen and pumps blood to a patient whose heart or lungs are not currently working due to illness. ECMO can help these organs rest and heal while physicians work to manage the underlying medical condition.

Patients with critical illnesses that impact lung or heart function may benefit from a period of ECMO support. In babies and children, ECMO may be used for:

  • Meconium aspiration (when a newborn breathes a mixture of meconium and amniotic fluid into the lungs around the time of delivery)
  • High blood pressure
  • Diaphragmatic hernias (when one or more abdominal organs move upward into the chest through an opening in the diaphragm)
  • Heart abnormalities
  • Respiratory or heart failure

At the University of Chicago Medicine Comer Children's Hospital, our multidisciplinary extracorporeal life support service includes neonatal and pediatric critical care physicians, pediatric surgeons, dedicated ECMO fellows, specially trained ECMO nurses, respiratory therapists and perfusionists (specialists who operate the heart-lung machine). An ECMO specialist and dedicated ECMO fellows are available around the clock, ensuring continuity and quality of care. In addition, the multidisciplinary team regularly assesses patients so they can transition from ECMO support as soon as possible.

After a patient is transitioned from ECMO, the team continues to evaluate his or her condition and adjusts therapy according to current guidelines and protocols. Our pediatric surgery and intensive care teams also hold regular conferences to discuss cases, work on quality improvement and identify opportunities for innovation and research. Among other honors and distinctions for pediatric care, Comer Children's Extracorporeal Life Support (ECLS) Center is a proud recipient of the ELSO Award for Excellence in Life Support.

We're at the forefront of ECMO training and innovation. Through a dedicated simulation training program, our experts practice the technical aspects of ECMO management, develop evidence-based protocols, and enhance a team approach to care — leading to better patient outcomes.

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To reach pediatric critical care faculty or staff, please call us at 773-702-3020.