During the height of the pandemic, COVID-19 patients flooded hospitals and filled intensive care units (ICUs) with severe cases and forced physicians to look for new ways to save lives. Many doctors across the country looked to extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) as a possible treatment option to rescue critically ill COVID-19 patients from the brink of death. Also referred to as extracorporeal life support, ECMO replaces the function of the heart and lungs in patients with severe heart and/or lung failure.
The life-support system pumps blood from the patient’s body to an artificial lung (oxygenator) that adds oxygen to it and removes carbon dioxide. The ECMO machine then sends the blood back to the patient via a pump with the same force as the heart.
While ECMO machines have been used for decades to treat adults and children with severe lung or heart failure, no local hospitals had an ECMO program until now.
South Texas Health System Heart, the first hospital in the Rio Grande Valley with ECMO capabilities, is now among an elite group of hospitals nationwide able to provide ECMO therapy for the treatment of severe pulmonary issues and respiratory failure.
“This ECMO treatment at STHS Heart will offer some of our most critically ill patients suffering from acute or chronic cardiac and respiratory failure an additional treatment option without needing to leave the Valley. While receiving ECMO life support, patients are monitored by our multidisciplinary team at all times,” says Brenda Ivory, Chief Executive Officer, South Texas Health System Heart. “This leading-edge technology and our highly trained staff, who have the advanced expertise required to execute this complicated and specialized procedure, will give our most severely ill patients a fighting chance at life.”
ECMO therapy requires a multi-disciplinary team, along with numerous other staff, who provide support along a patient's journey of care. This specialized team includes ECMO physicians, ECMO surgeons, ECMO cardiology specialists, ECMO intensivists, ECMO-trained nurses and ECMO-trained respiratory therapists.
STHS Heart has purchased the LifeSPARC® System, which is designed to simplify temporary cardiopulmonary bypass to give more patients access to this high-level support. The machine, built on more than 20 years of experience, is FDA 510(k) cleared for ECMO. It features TandemHeart®, the first-generation acute coronary syndrome (ACS) system, which simplified the priming process and increased the power of the pump, while leveraging the strengths of the previous generation system.
“There is a growing need for more efficient and accessible life support technology and, with the LifeSPARC pump and controller’s relative simplicity and portability, we have the opportunity to make ECMO an option for more patients,” Ivory says.
STHS Heart has already received its ECMO machine and will begin offering ECMO support for patients with severe heart and lung conditions including severe respiratory failure and cardiogenic shock, and for heart or lung transplant candidates in early 2023.