ECMO is a vital treatment for critically ill adult patients that saves many lives each year at both Royal Brompton and Harefield hospitals. This is why we are raising funds via our Covid-19 Relief Fund to buy more ECMO equipment.

You may be wondering what exactly ECMO does and why it is important for so many patients? To answer this question and explore how ECMO helps patients suffering from different conditions, we chatted to a range of patients and staff at Royal Brompton and Harefield hospitals.

ECMO stands for extracorporeal membrane oxygenation. It is a treatment given to critically ill patients where a piece of medical equipment pumps or oxygenates a patient’s blood to give the heart or lungs a rest. There are two types of ECMO treatment: VV ECMO and VA ECMO. VV ECMO is used for patients with severe respiratory conditions and VA ECMO is used for patients with severe heart conditions.

How ECMO helps lung patients

“For VV ECMO, the blood is taken out of the circulation and directed through an oxygenator that effectively does the job of the lungs,” Peter Doyle, Lead Nurse and Associate General Manager at Harefield Hospital, said. “The whole idea is to rest the lungs, so that they can recover.”

VV ECMO is used as a last option for critically ill Covid-19 patients and has saved the lives of many during the pandemic so far. "Covid-19 often presents as an acute respiratory failure, which can be successfully treated with ECMO" Peter said.

ECMO saved Amy’s life

One such patient is Amy Walduck who was given ECMO as a treatment for Covid-19 at Royal Brompton hospital. Amy said: “It felt like I was using all of my energy to get enough breath. It felt like I was in this bubble with not enough oxygen and no matter how much energy I put in I just couldn’t breathe. After a while I didn’t want to eat and drink because breathing was my priority. It was at this point where my memory starts to fade, my focus was to stay alive.”

Amy was being treated for Covid-19 at Milton Keynes Hospital, but was transferred to Royal Brompton for ECMO when her condition worsened. The treatment saved her life and she was able to return home to her family before her birthday. “I can't put into words how grateful I am. The staff at Royal Brompton have given me my life back and there's nothing I can ever do to express what that means to us,” Amy said.

How ECMO helps heart patients

ECMO is used in the treatment of other critically ill patients, not just those suffering from Covid-19. VV ECMO is also used to treat patients with acute lung failure and patients critically ill with the flu.

For VA ECMO, the patient’s heart is given a chance to rest and recover. This type of ECMO is used for patients with heart failure, such as patients who have had multiple heart attacks or patients who need a heart transplant.

ECMO helped Tracy when she went into septic shock

ECMO was used in the treatment of Tracy who went into septic shock at home whilst recovering from surgery. She was airlifted to Royal Brompton and put on ECMO, which saved her life. Tracy said: “ECMO and the care of the Doctors and nurses saved my life. My family and I can’t put into words our gratitude.”

Perfusionist at Royal Brompton Rosie Smith explains the importance of having more ECMO machines:

ECMO really is seeing the difference between a person struggling to live and hopefully starting them on their road to recovery. Having more equipment for ECMO means we can help support more people to recover when there isn’t really any other option for them.

Specialist ECMO treatment

Royal Brompton and Harefield hospitals specialise in ECMO, which means that many desperately ill patients are transferred here for this life saving treatment. During the Covid-19 pandemic many of the sickest Covid-19 patients were sent for ECMO at our hospitals. This equipment has saved many lives and will continue to help with the treatment of severely ill patients in the future.

Right now, we are raising funds to buy equipment to help Royal Brompton and Harefield hospitals through the pandemic, but we are also looking to buy new equipment that will help treat other patients in the future. More ECMO equipment will help our two hospitals stay at the leading edge of patient care.

Please help us buy more ECMO equipment for Royal Brompton and Harefield Hospitals by donating to our Covid-19 Relief Fund.