Please review our updated visitor guidelines as of November 6, 2023, before arriving for care.

ECMO

Doctors and care teams at Dell Children’s Medical Center deliver ECMO therapy for infants and children with life-threatening heart and lung conditions.

Father holding his infant child's hand in a hospital room.

Pediatric ECMO at Dell Children's

Dell Children’s Medical Center at Ascension Seton provides the only pediatric ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) program in Austin, Texas. Experienced ECMO specialists deliver advanced care for critically ill patients with life-threatening lung and heart conditions. When other therapies are not working, this advanced technology is used to temporarily take over the job of the heart and lungs. It provides respiratory support and blood circulation – allowing the lungs and heart to rest while your child is recovering from serious illness or injury. ECMO is sometimes the best option for care with the goal of helping your child’s heart or lungs heal.

Multidisciplinary care teams

While your child is receiving ECMO therapy at Dell Children’s, your child is monitored 24/7 and cared for by a compassionate team of experienced specialists, including ECMO specialists (nurses and respiratory therapists with highly specialized training), critical care doctors, pediatric heart surgeons, pediatric surgeons, child life specialists, pharmacists, pediatric physical therapists and more. Throughout your child’s care, your child’s care team clearly explains each step and answers your questions.

Depending on your child’s condition, the ECMO care team may work closely with many other specialists during and after ECMO care, including PICU (pediatric intensive care unit), CICU (cardiac intensive care unit), NICU (neonatal intensive care unit), pulmonology, and cardiovascular surgery.

ECMO may be used as part of treatment for conditions such as:

  • Airway abnormalities
  • Cardiomyopathy (heart muscle disease)
  • Congenital diaphragmatic hernia
  • Congenital heart disease
  • Flu
  • Heart failure
  • Inhalation injury (breathing heat, smoke or chemicals into the lungs)
  • Lung failure
  • Meconium aspiration syndrome
  • Myocarditis (inflammation of heart muscle)
  • Near drowning
  • Persistent pulmonary hypertension of the newborn (PPHN)
  • Pneumonia
  • RSV
  • Severe asthma
  • Sepsis and severe infection
  • Trauma injury

Transfer a patient for ECMO support

Dell Children’s Medical Center provides ECMO support for children across Central Texas. If you have a patient who could benefit from ECMO, our transport team can assist in moving your patient to a higher level of care. Early consultation can help you know when to refer your patient for ECMO. If you have questions or need to transfer a patient to the ECMO program at Dell Children’s Medical Center, please call 512-324-3515.

Frequently asked questions

  • How does ECMO work?

    This machine maintains blood flow and oxygen to vital organs. Small plastic tubes are inserted into a vein to draw out blood, and another tube is inserted into a vein or artery to return oxygenated blood. Your child’s surgeon chooses the size of the tubes based on their size, age and weight. The cannulas transfer blood from the patient’s body by using a pump to push the blood through tubes to the machine. Inside the machine, the blood receives oxygen and the carbon dioxide is removed. Then, the blood is warmed to body temperature. Finally, the warm blood goes through another cannula back to your child’s body. The ECMO is doing the work of your child’s heart and lungs.

  • What happens while my child is receiving ECMO therapy?

    Your child will receive 24/7 monitoring and care, including:

    • Bed bath: Your child will be given a gentle bed bath as often as needed. Depending on your child’s condition, you may help bathe your child.
    • Food and nutrition: While receiving ECMO therapy, your child will be seen by a dietitian with specialized training in critical care nutrition. Your child’s care team makes sure they receive all the necessary nutrition, including vitamins, minerals and electrolytes, through an IV catheter or feeding tube.
    • Lab testing: Your child’s care team will collect blood samples from the catheters that have already been put into place.
    • Lung percussion: A respiratory therapist will be part of your child’s care team. They may gently press on your child’s chest to loosen any thick secretions. This will help your child’s lungs to heal.
    • Medications: A critical care pharmacist is on our care team to provide various medications for children while they are receiving ECMO therapy.
    • Positioning: The way your child’s body is positioned will help their lungs to heal. Your child’s physical therapist and care team will decide which position is best for your child.
    • Procedures: Sometimes children receiving ECMO therapy need another medical procedure. Your child’s ECMO care team works closely with your child’s other specialists to provide the care your child needs.
    • Ultrasound: Some children receiving ECMO therapy may need to have ultrasounds of their head to make sure there is not any bleeding inside the brain. Your child may also need an ultrasound or echocardiogram of their heart.
    • Weighing: Your child’s weight will determine what medications will be given and if they are getting too much fluid or not enough. Your child may be weighed every night.
    • X-ray: Your child will have X-rays while they are receiving ECMO therapy, to make sure the tubes stay in the proper position and to allow the doctors to monitor your child’s lungs.
  • What can my family do while my child is receiving ECMO therapy?

    Decorate the room: We often recommend decorating the child’s room with pictures, drawings and other personal touches. This can help siblings and family members feel connected to your child while they are receiving ECMO therapy. Check with your child’s care team to see what is allowed in your child’s room.

    Talk with your child life specialist: Your family can receive help from a child life specialist at Dell Children’s. A child life specialist can help explain the treatment to young siblings, provide support for the entire family, and help your family cope with having a child who is critically ill in the hospital.

    Provide a healing environment: Hearing your voice and feeling your touch can help comfort your child. You can bring your child’s favorite stuffed animal or toy to the hospital. You can even make recordings of your family’s voices or music to play when you are not able to be with your child. Talk with your child’s doctor or nurse about what might be recommended for your child.

ECMO