Last-Ditch Support System Is Saving COVID Patients

By Robert Preidt
HealthDay reporter

THURSDAY October 1, 2020 (HealthDay News) – A survival technique called ECMO has saved the lives of many critically ill COVID-19 patients, according to a new study.

The ECMO (extracorporeal membrane oxygenation) machine supports the function of the lungs and heart. Blood is pumped from the body into equipment that adds oxygen to the blood before it is returned to the body.

The technique has saved lives in previous outbreaks of the lung-damaging virus, but small studies published early in the coronavirus pandemic have questioned its effectiveness.

This international study included 1,035 patients with COVID-19 at high risk of death because ventilators and other types of care could not support their lungs.

After being placed on ECMO, the death rate in these patients was less than 40%, according to the study authors.

“These results from hospitals experienced in providing ECMO are similar to previous reports of patients supported by ECMO, with other forms of acute respiratory distress syndrome or viral pneumonia,” said the co-author, Dr. Ryan Barbaro, University of Michigan.

“The results support recommendations to consider ECMO in COVID-19 if the ventilator fails. We hope these results will help hospitals make decisions on this resource-intensive option,” Barbaro said in an academic press release.

Most of the centers in this study did not need to use ECMO for COVID-19 very often, said study co-author Graeme MacLaren, of the National University Health System of Singapore.

“By bringing together data from more than 200 international centers in the same study, [it] deepened our knowledge of using ECMO for COVID-19 in a way that would be impossible for individual centers to learn on their own, ”MacLaren said in the statement.

Although the study finds that ECMO can save the lives of patients with COVID-19 who show signs of the need for advanced life-support, it should be provided in hospitals with experienced ECMO teams, the researchers said. Hospitals should not try to add ECMO capacity amid the COVID-19 pandemic, they added.

The results were published on September 25 in The Lancet medical journal.

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SOURCE: University of Michigan, press release, September 25, 2020

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