Some common questions parents have about ECMO

The ECMO team were talking about the "ECMO flow", what does this mean?

The ECMO flow is how fast the blood travels through the circuit. This depends on the size of your child. As your child improves, the flow can be slowed down to let your child’s heart and/or lungs do more of the work.

What is are all the machines, wires and tubes for?

Ventilator - this is a machine that breathes for your child. During ECMO the ventilator settings are turned down to let the lungs rest.
Catheter - this is placed in the bladder to drain urine continuously.
Central lines - these allow access for different medications and fluids.
Chest drains - these take away air and fluid that might have built up outside the heart and lungs
Wires - these detect heart rhythm and will be attached to electrodes taped to the skin.
Arterial line - this is a small catheter in the hand, arm or foot which monitors blood pressure and provides access for blood sampling.
The ECMO tubes - these will be stitched in place, either in the neck, groin or open chest incision.
The ECMO circuit - this is connected to the ECMO tubes. Pressure in the ECMO circuit is measured continuously. The circuit is checked regularly for leaks, kinks, or other signs of wear and tear.

What will my child's body look like on ECMO?

Your child’s skin may be bluish or light grey - After ECMO has started your child’s skin colour may improve and become pinker.

Your child may look swollen or puffy -This is because before ECMO your child may have needed a lot of fluid to keep their blood pressure normal. The swelling will go away but it can take several days and may not be gone until after ECMO is no longer needed.

Your child’s movement will be reduced - this is because we give medicine to reduce movement so that the ECMO tubes do not come out accidentally.

You might notice some bleeding where the ECMO tubes go in, or from the chest drain. This is not unusual and blood will be given to replace what is lost.

What happens if ECMO does not help my child?

Sadly, in some cases, it becomes clear that ECMO is not helping your child. ECMO is not a treatment. It can only give time for the heart of lungs to improve themselves. If the heart or lungs have been damaged irreversibly ECMO will not be able to help. We will discuss this fully with you if this happens.