The USC Extracorporeal Life Support (ECLS) program offers potentially life-saving support to people whose heart or lungs are failing by using mechanical devices that temporarily assist the functions of both organs. ECLS technology may be used in critically ill patients with myriad medical conditions, ranging from heart failure and lung disease to influenza (flu) and pneumonia. ECLS is also used for patients awaiting heart or lung transplants.
The USC ECLS program offers a technology known as extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO. A type of heart-lung machine, ECMO temporarily replaces the function of the heart or lungs by adding oxygen to the blood and pumping it to the body. Originally developed to help infants, ECMO is now also used to treat critically ill adults. In addition to ECMO, our expert cardiac physicians also implant and manage a variety of temporary life-support devices.
Our team offers expert care for patients who need short- or long-term care, providing support through each phase of treatment.
Whether a patient needs to be placed on ECLS for a few days or several weeks, our experienced team of physicians and medical professionals work together to direct their progress, from the moment they begin treatment until they are ready to be safely taken off the life-support devices. With years of experience in ECLS treatment, our physicians work closely with patients and their families and caregivers to guide their care. Our multidisciplinary team is led by a cardiothoracic surgeon and an intensive care physician, with additional support — based on each patient’s unique medical needs — from a wide range of specialists, including nurses and respiratory therapists with additional training in caring for patients who are receiving ECLS.
What is ECMO?
Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, or ECMO, is a medical procedure that temporarily replaces the function of a failing heart or lungs with a machine that removes carbon dioxide from the blood, oxygenates it and pumps it to the body. The technology, sometimes called a heart-lung machine, is usually used for patients with heart or lung failure. By providing the heart and lungs a temporary respite from their normal functions, ECMO can give the body time to recover after sustaining damage caused by disease or trauma.
This potentially life-saving technology can be used for a few days or several weeks. Two types of ECMO machines are available — one that provides both temporary heart and lung support, and one that only provides temporary lung support. The type of equipment and duration of an ECMO treatment plan is determined by a team of medical professionals. Risks and possible complications associated with ECMO are also evaluated by a physician prior to treatment. While ECMO may provide life-saving support, it is important to note that the technology is not a cure for heart or lung disease, and it cannot heal irreversible damage to the heart or lungs.
Who needs ECMO?
ECMO technology has been in use for several decades and was initially developed to help infants in need of life support. ECMO is now used to help both critically ill children and adults with a broad range of medical conditions, including:
- Acute respiratory distress syndrome (ARDS)
- Cardiac arrest
- Congenital heart disease
- Heart failure
- Heart rhythm abnormalities
- Influenza virus (flu)
- Lung failure
- Post–cardiac surgery heart failure
- Pulmonary hypertension
21-Year-Old Develops Life-Threatening Blood Clots
At 21 years old, Melanie Rodriguez did not expect to be in a medical transport helicopter on her way to get life-saving treatment at Keck Medicine of USC’s CardioVascular Thoracic Institute. But a cardiac ablation for an irregular heartbeat at another hospital had developed complications that needed Keck Medicine’s specialty care… Read More