ECMO brings with it potentially severe complications. Clots are one danger, and that has required the use of anticoagulant medications such as heparin. This, in turn, can lead to bleeding.
ECMO systems now use heparincoated tubing, which provides a defense against clotting. But the risk remains.
Since 1991, 76 percent of UF Health ECMO patients have survived to be taken off the machine, said Bantle.
That track record has led to an expansion of ECMO’s use in situations once thought ill-suited for it.
“It increasingly is being implemented earlier in the course of disease to minimize multiorgan failure,” said Andres Pelaez, M.D., the medical director of the UF Health lung transplant program and an associate professor in the UF College of Medicine.
Pelaez is also co-director of the adult ECMO program with Hassan Alnuaimat, M.D., an associate professor of medicine and director of the pulmonary hypertension program in the UF College of Medicine.
ECMO was long used overwhelmingly in pediatric cases, most often in newborns whose resilient lungs were especially responsive to the treatment. Early studies indicated adults didn’t fare as well, so treating adults fell out of favor.
That changed about a decade ago with the advent of the swine flu. With improved technology and methods, adults placed on ECMO for flu-induced respiratory distress fared well. Adult treatment is today predominant at UF Health and around the nation.
It’s important to remember, said Islam, the need for ECMO is relatively rare. UF Health expects to treat about 60 ECMO patients in the 12 months ending June 30, a majority of them adults, he said.
“I think one has to understand it is not a tremendously common thing, fortunately,” said Islam. “But for those rare individuals, certainly ECMO is their last hope and possibility of survival.”
It was a terrible car accident last spring. Every system in Brandon Taylor’s body was compromised. He had a broken back and neck, severe injuries to his head and chest.
His lungs weren’t functioning. They needed time to heal.
Taylor was taken to UF Health Jacksonville, where he became the first adult patient at the hospital to be placed on ECMO. Taylor doesn’t remember the time in the hospital. But he fought back.
Soon enough, Taylor was sent home.
Later in 2017, Taylor and his wife returned to the hospital to thank his caregivers.