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Institutional ECMO


Building an Institutional ECMO Center

A newborn suffers serious respiratory distress during delivery. A healthy child’s heart fails after an infection that initially seems like a “cold.” A teenager’s lungs become severely infected while he’s hospitalized with pneumonia, causing his lungs to collapse. 

For young patients with life-threatening lung or heart problems that critically reduce or even prevent their ability to breathe or pump enough blood to their body, receiving skilled extracorporeal membrane oxygenation (ECMO) therapy quickly may be their only chance to survive. 

ECMO provides breathing and heart support and is used after all standard treatments for those problems have failed. ECMO can support patients for days to weeks, giving their lungs and/or heart a rest while doctors treat their underlying illness. A highly trained team with the most advanced equipment is required to perform this crucial treatment correctly and safely.

Valley Children’s is committed to becoming the best children’s hospital in the nation. To help us achieve this goal, we need to build a state-of-the-art, institutional ECMO Center. This will enable us to provide ECMO for neonatal and pediatric intensive care patients who suffer from cardiac or respiratory conditions that are present at birth or develop unexpectedly. 

The impetus to build the ECMO Center grew out of Valley Children’s recent efforts to design a 10-year roadmap to establish the best pediatric heart program in the country. Valley Children’s is the only pediatric provider of ECMO in Central California. We need to significantly expand the breadth and depth of our ECMO capabilities to deliver the best care to our patients and families.

How ECMO Works

ECMO is performed using a heart-lung machine similar to the one used during open-heart surgery. The ECMO machine, often referred to as a “circuit,” moves blood via sterile plastic tubing from the patient to the “ECMO lung” and then back to the patient. The ECMO lung adds oxygen to the blood and removes carbon dioxide like a healthy lung would.

An Increasing Need for Philanthropic Support

Valley Children’s currently performs short-term ECMO for about five to 10 pediatric patients a year. To serve more children, Valley Children’s plans to expand our ECMO capabilities to include pediatric and neonatal intensive care unit patients with conditions ranging from congenital heart defects to sepsis and pulmonary hypertension, who usually require a longer therapy duration. Expanding our scope of treatment would increase Valley Children’s ECMO services to an estimated 25 cases per year.

However, we need increased resources to provide more ECMO procedures. An ECMO run and heart surgery, for example, both require perfusionists – highly trained specialists needed to operate the heart-lung machine and manage the patient’s physiological status. Cardiac cases often require ECMO runs up to a week long, while neonates and respiratory patients frequently need ECMO up to two weeks or more. 

Developing a state-of-the-art ECMO Center will require additional staff, technology, training and more. In addition to the surgeon who inserts the cannulas at the start and completion of ECMO, a team of doctors, nurses, respiratory therapists, perfusionists and other ECMO specialists care for the patient at the bedside 24 hours a day.

To achieve our vision, we need people like you to invest in start-up infrastructure and operating costs. This includes replacing one of our three ECMO heart-lung machines and potentially adding a fourth heart-lung machine; a medical director to oversee the Center; ECMO coordinators; and more perfusionists. 

Funding also will be needed for initial and ongoing training for potentially 20 to 30 current nurses and respiratory therapists to support the process. Each staff member will receive five days of initial training, plus at least four hours monthly to maintain his or her skills. An ECMO curriculum needs to be acquired for ongoing training in a simulation lab.

How You Can Help

Valley Children’s is committed to becoming the best children’s hospital in the country. Your philanthropic support to build an institutional ECMO Center at Valley Children’s will enable more children to receive lifesaving care when only the best will do. 


Click here to invest today in the lives of ill and injured kids in the Central Valley.