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The Life-Saving Technology of ECMO

“Critical condition” are two of the hardest words parents can hear about their new baby. Should your newborn’s heart or lungs have complications, the best team to have on your side is at Orlando Health Winnie Palmer Hospital for Women & Babies. We stand committed to delivering the most technologically advanced care with compassion and understanding to help guide you through this challenging time — and give your baby the best possible outcome.


ECMO — Delivering Miracles at Orlando Health Since 1989

When you need a miracle for your baby, ECMO delivers. This life-saving technology has been making a difference since 1975, saving many newborns in dire need. Orlando Health Arnold Palmer Hospital for Children first offered this technology to the Central Florida community in 1989, and has since been responsible for saving 540 newborns and counting. Orlando Health Winnie Palmer is one of the few Central Florida hospitals with ECMO capability. And, we are the first of just four ECMO programs in the state to provide modified heart-lung bypass technology.

ECMO, which stands for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation machine, acts as an artificial lung outside your baby’s body, working to supply much-needed oxygen back into their blood. In other words, ECMO will breathe for your child while they heal. ECMO also can act as your baby’s heart when necessary, for as long as is necessary.

With this technology, your baby is given a safe, stress-free environment in which to heal and grow. ECMO is offered only to children whose lung and/or heart disease is thought to be reversible.


What to Expect

The number of days your child is on ECMO depends on your child’s age and the original illness. For a newborn, the average time on ECMO is 3 to 7 days, but it can be extended to 14 or more days. For an older baby or child, the average time on ECMO is 7 to 21 days. Each child is different, so these times may vary. Some of the differences include: the type of lung or heart disease; the amount of damage to the lungs before ECMO; and complications that may occur during ECMO.

With this technology, a steady amount of blood is pumped through the ECMO machine each minute. This is usually referred to as the “ECMO flow.” When your child is first placed on ECMO, the flow will be kept high because the machine is doing most of the work to provide oxygen to your child’s blood. As your child improves, the flow can be decreased, and more of the blood will go to your child’s lungs.

Your child’s lungs are improving when the oxygen content in the blood increases consistently over time despite a decrease in ECMO support. This improvement can be measured several ways:

  • Periodically, a small blood sample will be taken from your child so the amount of oxygen in the sample can be measured.

  • Chest X-rays are taken and examined to check for improvements as your child’s lungs heal.

  • A continual decrease in the amount of ECMO support is an important sign of healing.


Our Unmatched Level of Care

Throughout this process, any baby in need of ECMO support will be cared for by a team of experts that includes your child’s nurse, respiratory therapist, ECMO specialist, ECMO coordinator and the doctors tending to your child. In addition, our hospital offers the services of a patient and family counselor, a developmentalist and a child life specialist to help make this time as comfortable and emotionally manageable as possible.

We at Orlando Health are recognized across Central Florida for our ECMO expertise. Every year, between 30 and 40 babies are transferred from hospitals down the street or in nearby counties to receive ECMO treatment from the Alexander Center for Neonatology at Orlando Health Winnie Palmer. Of these, 12 to 20 will receive ECMO treatment. The remaining babies are successfully cared for by our renowned team of physicians, respiratory therapists and nursing staff.

Our success rate of greater than 90 percent for seriously ill babies recovering through ECMO speaks to our expertise in caring for their severe conditions. In some cases of newborns with respiratory complications, the success rate is as high as 98 percent. Along with our proven history, we bring a commitment to you and your child to provide the very best care available.