Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) is a life support machine that replaces the function of the heart and lungs. Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) is also known as Extracorporeal Life Support (ECLS).

What is ECMO?

Extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) is a life support machine.

Patients who need ECMO have a severe illness that stops their heart or lungs from working properly. The ECMO machine replaces the function of the heart and lungs for the patient on a short-term basis.

Patients usually only need support from an ECMO machine for a short time (from a few hours and up to a few days). However, some patients may need support from an ECMO machine for a few weeks, depending on how their condition progresses.

ECMO is used to help people whose: 

■ Lungs cannot provide enough oxygen to the body, even when they are given extra oxygen 

■ Lungs cannot get rid of carbon dioxide, even with help from a mechanical ventilator 

■ Heart cannot pump enough blood to the body 

Most patients who need support from an ECMO machine will have already received care and been treated with a range of conventional supports which unfortunately have not been successful.

Extracorporeal Membrane Oxygenation (ECMO) Service

The Mater ECMO service was developed in 2009 and is based in our Intensive Care Unit (ICU) here in the hospital. It is the only place in Ireland that provides ECMO to adult patients. Patient care is provided by a specialised team that includes critical care medical staff and specialist nursing staff. The team is supported by our cardiothoracic surgery, perfusion and cardiology teams.

Excellence in life support

The Mater ECMO service is registered with the Extracorporeal Life Support Organisation (ELSO). ELSO is the internationally recognised organisation for extracorporeal life support practice. 

In 2019, the Mater ECMO service achieved its second ELSO Award for 'Excellence in Life Support'. This award recognises ECMO centres around the world that reach the highest level of performance, innovation, education and quality. The award is testament to the hard work and commitment of all our staff involved in caring for ECMO patients here in the Mater Hospital.

Hospital referrals

Patients being considered for ECMO in the Mater ICU may be referred from other hospitals in Ireland. For more information on referral of patients who may be candidates for ECMO, please see our referrals page here.

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