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Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO)

​​​​​​ECMO is a type of life support that helps people whose heart and lungs aren’t functioning properly by pumping your blood for you. ECMO is used in critical care situations and gives your heart and lungs time to heal.

ECMO replaces the function of the heart and lungs. In ECMO, blood is pumped outside of your body to a heart-lung machine that removes carbon dioxide and sends oxygen-filled blood back to the tissues in the body. 

Marshfield Medical Center in Marshfield is a registered center of Extracorporeal Life Support Organization (ELSO) and supports the mission and vision of ELSO to provide excellence in patient care, focus on quality, process improvement, education and training while supporting our patients and families.​​​​

Why is ECMO needed?

ECMO can be used to help people who are very ill with conditions of the heart and lungs. ECMO does not treat or cure a disease, but can help you when your body temporarily can’t provide your tissues with enough oxygen.

It may be used for heart conditions, such as:

• Life threatening heart arrhythmias that can cause a heart to fail
• Heart muscle disease that causes a weak heart or does not allow the heart to pump effectively
• Inflammation of the heart muscle due to an infection or an autoimmune disease called Myocarditis
• Life-threatening cardiac response to infection, such as sepsis, called sepsis induced cardiomyopathy
• Low body temperature or hypothermia
• Cardiogenic Shock after large myocardial infarctions
• After high risk cardiac surgeries to support the heart until its heals

It may also be used for lung conditions, such as:
• Acute respiratory distress (ARDS)/Respiratory failure
• Asthma resistant to medical treatment
• Pulmonary embolism (clots blockage in the pulmonary artery in the lungs)
• COVID-19 pneumonia
• Influenza pneumonia
• Pneumonia due to bacterial infection
• Pulmonary hypertension (high blood pressure in the lung’s arteries)
• Severe lung contusion due to chest trauma

Risks associated with ECMO

Risks include bleeding, blood clots, infection, seizures and stroke.

How long are patients put on ECMO?

People typically are supported by an ECMO machine for only a few hours to days, but may require treatment for longer, depending on their condition.

Is therapy needed after ECMO?

As a patient is recovering from severe illness, additional physical and occupational therapy is needed to regain strength.

​Patients on ECMO will have an extensive, multidisciplinary and collaborative team caring for them at all times, including:

  • Cardiothoracic surgeons. These surgeons have expertise to place the ECMO cannulas, or tubes, in the patient’s large blood vessels. Surgeons work closely with the intensive care unit team to care for each patient while on ECMO.
  • Cardiologists. These providers provide specialized heart care and management while a patient is on ECMO.
  • Intensive care physicians. Board-certified pulmonary critical care and surgical critical care physicians are specially trained to care for patients supported by ECMO.
  • Vascular surgeons. These surgeons assist with placing the cannulas and are the experts in watching for and treating blood vessel injury.
  • ECMO specialists. Critical care respiratory therapists and critical care nurses are specially trained to care for ECMO patients and maintain the ECMO circuit. 
  • Critical care nursing staff. Patients will have a bedside critical care nurse caring for them at all times while on ECMO.
  • Therapists. Physical and occupational therapists will be involved in your care to help your muscles stay active and will provide care for you when patients are removed from ECMO.
  • Pharmacists. Intensive care pharmacists will oversee medications and assist the team with blood thinning medication and management.

Our Health System is the only local hospital offering this life-saving treatment. Watch this video for more information. 


To discuss a referral or patient transfer with our multidisciplinary ECMO team, call 1-844-MC CARES (1-844-622-2737)

Provider Referrals​​

Find an ECMO provider

​Related Specialties


Cardiovascular surgery

Vascular Surgery​​​​​​​