Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO)

Call for referral:

410-328-1234 410-328-1234

ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) is a device that takes over the function of your lungs.

It uses a machine to remove carbon dioxide from your blood and circulate oxygen throughout your body when your lungs cannot function on their own.

ECMO may often be referred to as ECLS (extracorporeal life support) or heart/lung bypass.

We may use ECMO to allow your body to recover so you can undergo a lung transplant procedure. Learn more in our ECMO guide.

To make a referral or to transport a patient, call 410-328-1234.

ECMO at the University of Maryland

We are leaders in the field of ECMO. Features of our care include:

  • High volume: While a typical medical center may do approximately 30 ECMO cases a year, we did more than 100 in 2014, giving us a unique depth of expertise and experience. We are also one of the few centers using ECMO as a bridge to transplant.
  • High-risk patients: The high volume of patients we treat also allows us to use this technique successfully on high-risk patients. Patients who may have been turned down for treatment at other centers can find hope at the University of Maryland.
  • Specialized care: We administer ECMO in our unique Lung Rescue Unit, where patients with acute lung disease receive intensive care from a group of dedicated lung experts. Learn more about our Lung Rescue Unit.

Professional Recognition for ECMO Care

The Extracorporeal Life Support Organization (ELSO) recognized the University of Maryland Medical Center's ECMO team for excellence in ECMO treatment by awarding it the Gold Level Award for Excellence in Life Support.

The success of the UMMC ECMO program is the result of a collaborative team of physicians on the faculty of the University of Maryland School of Medicine across several disciplines including cardiothoracic surgery, emergency and trauma/critical care medicine as well as specialists in intensive care nursing, physical and respiratory therapy and perfusion experts.

In order to qualify for the ELSO award, a hospital must excel in several key areas, including attaining the highest standards of patient care, advanced ECMO education for all staff members, innovation and the use of specialized equipment. The award is an honorary designation and does not indicate a certification by ELSO.

Candidates for ECMO

We use ECMO for:

  • Children and adults with acute, or sudden, lung and/or heart failure
  • Bridge to therapy for heart patients who need a ventricular assist device (VAD) or transplant. Learn more about our VAD program.
  • In some cases, certain patients do not respond to traditional treatments, like mechanical ventilation, oxygen therapy or medications. However, doctors believe their condition is reversible. In these cases, experts from many different areas of lung care come together to discuss using ECMO as an opportunity to allow the organs time to heal.

How ECMO Works

We administer ECMO in one of two ways. In both cases, your blood is oxygenated as it is circulated through a machine outside of your body.

  • Veno-arterial (V-A): Oxygenated blood returns from outside of your body into your arteries. V-A ECMO can be used in conjunction with cardiopulmonary bypass to support the heart.
  • Veno-venous (V-V): Oxygenated blood returns from outside of your body into your veins. We use this for patients who have lung failure only as it does not provide cardiac support.

Coordinated Care from Experts

Patients on ECMO receive care from a coordinated group of expert physicians, including:

  • Cardiothoracic surgeons
  • Anesthesiologists
  • Pulmonologists
  • Skilled cardiothoracic nurses
  • Critical care doctors
  • Cardiologists
  • Perfusionists (experts in heart-lung bypass)
  • Pediatric heart surgeons (if needed)

Contact Us

To speak with an advanced lung disease specialist, please call 410-328-4351.