Some critically ill patients have suffered such severe heart and lung failure that a ventilator (breathing machine) is not enough to keep them alive. Our ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) unit uses a cutting edge technique to take over patients’ heart and lung functions to allow these organs to recover.
The treatment works by pumping a patient’s blood through an oxygenator (artificial lung) outside of their body. This necessitates placing some large tubes (cannulae) into some of the veins (or sometimes arteries) in the neck or in the groin.
Our ECMO unit is one of only five adult centres in the UK and, in addition to UHSM, only one other hospital in the country offering an ECMO service also has a transplant unit. This means patients with severe heart or lung failure can be quickly transferred to the ECMO unit for life-saving support. It also means seriously injured patients attending our A&E and Major Burns Unit have access to some of the most advanced cardiorespiratory (heart and lung) treatment in the western world on-site.
Patients with illnesses such as pneumonia and swine flu can be so unwell that, despite being treated in an Intensive Care Unit, the team caring for them reaches the limit of what they can do to help. Our team is available 24/7 to travel to hospitals all over the North West and sometimes as far afield as Ireland, Devon, and Glasgow, to treat patients who are quickly deteriorating. The ECMO team start these patients on ECMO treatment in the referring ICU and bring them back to UHSM.
Patients needing ECMO care often arrive at the hospital unconscious. They are kept sedated during their time on ECMO, sometimes for up to several weeks, to give them the best chance of recovery. Once their organs have recovered enough, they are brought back to consciousness in the Intensive Care Unit.
ECMO Family Support Group
The experience of having ECMO treatment following a critical illness can be dramatic and distressing for patients and their families. The ECMO Family Support Group is the UK’s first family-led support community for these patients, set up by the unit and the family of a former patient, Sam Roden.
While many patients make an excellent physical recovery thanks to the ECMO Unit, side-effects of their injuries can include hallucinations, flashbacks and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder. Patients can also struggle to accept their memory gaps from time spent sedated during treatment. The group offers virtual and telephone help to families of critically ill patients who are going through ECMO treatment, and during their recovery.
The ECMO team is actively engaged in research projects looking at ECMO treatment. The team also run internationally recognised ECMO teaching courses.
Patients are referred for ECMO treatment by the Intensive Care consultants in their referring unit.
The team have an electronic ECMO referral form (this is only available to staff on the NHS N3 network).