A device called ECMO can't treat COVID-19, but it could help patients with the virus by doing the work of the lungs and, in some cases, the heart for when a ventilator isn't enough.
FRIDAY, May 1, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- Many people who are seriously ill with COVID-19 end up on ventilators to help them breathe, but sometimes, even ventilators aren't enough. That's when a device called ECMO may help.
ECMO can do the work of the lungs and in some cases, the heart. ECMO stands for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation. It's a machine that oxygenates blood using a complex circuit of pumps, tubes, filters and monitors. Someone on ECMO has to be monitored by a team of experts, and it's not available in all hospitals.
"ECMO doesn't do anything to treat COVID-19, but it buys you time by replacing the function of the lungs to allow recovery of the lungs," explained Dr. Jonathan Haft, director of the ECMO program at the University of Michigan in Ann Arbor.
Dr. John Puskas, chair of cardiovascular surgery at Mount Sinai Morningside in New York City, said ECMO is typically used when "patients get to a point where the ventilator is not enough."
He said that ECMO has a "fancy membrane that can exchange gases. It gets rid of carbon dioxide and adds oxygen to the blood, basically replacing the lungs. ECMO is remarkably effective at adding oxygen to the blood." And oxygen is just what many COVID-19 patients desperately need.