ECMO stands for Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation. Extracorporeal means outside of the body. A membrane oxygenator is a piece of equipment which acts as a lung to deliver oxygen into the child's blood. The ECMO circuit acts as an artificial heart and lung for the patient while on ECMO.
ECMO is a life-saving technique that mimics the natural function of the heart and lungs, allowing an infant or child to rest while natural healing of the affected organs takes place. It is used for newborns and children suffering respiratory and/or cardiac failure as a result of birth defects, trauma or severe infection.
Throughout extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, the child is the center of a highly coordinated team medical effort and receives around-the-clock care while on this "heart lung machine". The ECMO procedure involves channeling the patient's blood into a roller pump that serves as the child's "heart" throughout treatment. The pump sends the blood through an oxygenator, which serves as an artificial lung, infusing the blood with oxygen and removing carbon dioxide and returning it to the patient.
During extracorporeal membrane oxygenation treatment, the child's heart continues to beat, but its work is made easier because the ECMO machine does much of the pumping. The length of time a child remains on therapy depends on the diagnosis and the child's individual response.