The heart and lungs of some very sick children don’t function properly. This means that the blood circulating in the body is not properly oxygenated. Extra corporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) is a machine that helps to do the job of the heart and lungs.
When the ECMO machine supports the lungs only it is called “veno-venous” or “VV” ECMO.
When ECMO supports both the lungs and the heart it is called “veno-arterial” or “VA” ECMO.
Large lines are inserted into large veins (or veins and arteries). In children these may be placed in the groin area, neck area or the chest area.
The blood flows into the machine through the tubes. The machine filters the blood and adds oxygen and removes carbon dioxide. The blood is then returned back to the child.
ECMO is a temporary solution. It helps support children while the underlying problem is treated. ECMO also has a risk of potential complications. That means it is only used when there are clear benefits for your child. The doctors and staff will be able to answer further questions about ECMO for you.
This topic was reviewed by a paediatric intensive care medicine specialist in August 2022.